We began 2023 with the dry bulk sector swiftly adapting and diverting to new routes to compensate for the lack of exports from Ukraine and Russia. Throughout the year this conflict impacted trades, with a brokered agreement enabling some ships and cargoes to leave Ukrainian ports only to collapse a few months later. Ship operators continue to face challenges in navigating safe passage in the region but our dry sector tramp model has proved well able to serve trade flow and we must strive to protect this.
We ended the year with a new conflict between Israel and Gaza and merchant ships are now facing threats in the Red Sea region. INTERCARGO’s Secretariat has worked hard to keep members abreast of these ever-changing situations and will continue to do so throughout 2024. It is essential that merchant cargo ships and their crew are able to go about their legitimate business safely and without threat of harm. In the words of the out-going IMO Secretary-General, Kitack Lim, “Commercial shipping should never be a collateral victim of geopolitical conflicts.”
Decarbonization dominated the agenda throughout 2023, reaching a crescendo when the IMO agreed its ambitious new decarbonization targets which aim to reach net zero by or close to 2050. Now we embrace the challenge of meeting these targets and INTERCARGO fully supports the IMO’s goals while also acknowledging that the challenges ahead are massive and the time left to achieve them is very limited. Ship owners cannot be regulated in isolation — collaboration and action by all stakeholders in the maritime dry cargo chain is vital.
While we await innovative new ship designs our members are embracing technology and engaging with decarbonization opportunities. It is not an easy journey because the design of existing bulk carriers presents particular challenges when it comes to decarbonization, as our recent Forum on ‘Solutions for Sustainable Dry Bulk Shipping’ identified. However, dry bulk ship owners are keen to play their part in meeting shipping’s ambitious decarbonization targets and 2024 will bring more of these opportunities to share knowledge and experience.
INTERCARGO’s membership continues to grow and surpassed a milestone this year of 250 members, of which some 160 are full members. With about 3,300 ships of 325 million DWT, INTERCARGO members now represent about one-third of the global dry bulk fleet tonnage, thus strengthening the Association’s global influence. Such a strong voice enables us to build on solid foundations as we face challenges together. We have been pleased to see strong attendance at each of our semi-annual meetings this year as well as at our AGM in Athens.
The year 2023 saw the final ratification of the IMO’s Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships. This signifies a huge step in the industry’s drive to ensure ship recycling is carried out in a safe and sustainable way, removing unnecessary risk to human health, safety, and the environment. Ship owners can now be more assured that when their vessels reach the end of their life, they will find a safe and environmentally sound destination for recycling.
Meanwhile, despite a steady increase in Port State Control detention rates in all regions following the Covid-19 pandemic, INTERCARGO-entered vessels consistently outdid industry performance indicators in both deficiencies and detentions, as shown by the latest edition of our annual Benchmarking Bulk Carriers 2022-2023 Report, which showed that deficiencies per inspection across Flag States, Class, insurers, and Port State Control, in addition to owners’ benchmarking, remained unchanged.
As detention rates and DPI rates both remain lower for INTERCARGO members, it is pleasing to note that the ratio of members’ vessels being detained as part of the total dry bulk fleet fell in 2022. This demonstrates that our members are making great efforts to help achieve ambitious objectives and we commend them for this.
Safety of vessels and crew remains a core priority and INTERCARGO continues to contribute to numerous industry discussions and to take part in stakeholder working groups, as well as being an active Non-Governmental Organization with IMO. At the first in-person Round Table meeting in February 2023, INTERCARGO and its fellow industry associations unanimously emphasized the importance of the seafaring community. Highlighting their strong common ambition to prioritize seafarers, they agreed to work together on issues addressing the criminalization of seafarers, lessons learnt from the pandemic, training and the future availability of skilled mariners, as well as working to enhance the attractiveness of seafaring careers.
INTERCARGO is a great supporter of the Together In Safety programme which has a core objective to protect seafarers’ lives while delivering improved business efficiency and commercial effectiveness.
We must never forget about safety and INTERCARGO will always be a advocate of decarbonization with safety. In addition to supporting crew safety initiatives, we promote improved bulk carrier management practices within our daily work scope. An example is DryBMS which is to be fully implemented over the course of 2024 and we expect this joint initiative to be an important benchmark for safe ship operations throughout our sector.
Wishing you calm seas and following winds throughout 2024.
Chairman of INTERCARGO.