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by Ben Merrell

With 2020 finally in our rearview mirror, shipping professionals everywhere are turning their attention to the new year. At TNM we’re doing the same and have put together this list of the trends that will drive shipping in 2021.

Weather Outlook

2020 was record-breaking for Atlantic hurricanes, seeing 30 named storms, 13 hurricanes and 6 major hurricanes. While it is still too early to tell definitively how severe 2021 will be, the El Nina phenomenon which emerged last year is expected to persist into the new year, potentially driving increased storm activity. According to a (very) early forecast from Tropical Storm Risk they expect 2021 to be similar to other recent hurricane seasons, with activity about  20% above the 71 year average. This is in line with the general trend towards more active hurricane seasons which has emerged in the last decade. According to the same report from TSR, the norm for the last 71 years has been approximately 12 tropical storms annually, however since 2011 the average has been higher at around 17

These early predictions must be taken with a hefty grain salt, however shippers may need to grow accustomed to more severe hurricane activity. The early outlook for 2021 fits into the larger trend towards more severe and more frequent weather events driven by the harmful effects of global heating. While it is still unclear how 2021 will turn out weather-wise, TNM expects the best but prepares for the worst.

Where do you think 2021 will take the shipping industry?

Maritime Regulation and Sustainability:

2021 is sure to be a big year for regulators. This fall the Marine Environmental Protection Committee agreed to amendments to the IMO regulations which will result in big changes if adopted. Notably the amendments would involve a public rating system for vessel efficiency as well as require owners to cut vessel emissions by 40% (from 2008 levels) by 2030. While the amendments have been agreed, the decision on whether they will really be adopted will come in 2021 at the MEPC 76.

Another big change which could come in 2021 is the inclusion of vessel owners in the EU’s emissions trading scheme. In order to meet their emissions goals, the EU has been weighing implementing a carbon trading market for shippers operating in the EU. This major change could take effect as soon as Jan 01st 2022, and while the details of the legislation remain unclear this is one trend to keep a close eye on as more information is released over the coming year.

Seafarer Safety:

One of the most tragic results of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic has been its effect on the lives and wellbeing of seafarers. For many the pandemic has meant they have been unable to return home to their families since the imposition of travel bans in February and March. The Maritime Labour Convention stipulates that no seafarer is permitted to work aboard a vessel  for longer than 11 months however for hundreds of thousands of workers on ships across the globe this limit has long since been exceeded.

There are many reasons why this crisis has developed: bureaucratic oversight in labeling seafarers essential workers; the challenges of international cooperation; and economic pressures on shipping companies. Whatever the causes of the repatriation crisis, one thing is clear: It must be resolved in 2021. While the vaccine offers some hope of a general return to normalcy for many people, seafarers are at risk of being left out of these plans. The International Labour Organization has kept up calls for governments and shippers across the world to take action to remedy the situation.

In response to these calls, Australia has announced a deadline of Feb 28, 2021 after which  port authorities will once again enforce the 11 month service limit. Other governments and private companies will need to follow suit if this crisis is to be resolved.

“One of the positives that can be taken away from 2020 and the COVID pandemic is that it has forced many companies, ourselves included to re-examine their business model.  I think in 2021 you will see meaningful technological innovations in the marine industry which will bring data backed decision making to the forefront”

— Brian Hatter, President, True North Marine

Technological Innovations:

If 2020 had one major effect on the shipping industry it was that it accelerated the pace of digital technology innovation and adoption. The logistics challenges posed by the pandemic emphasized the need for better data collection systems to improve coordination between vessels and ports. Social distancing and public health measures also required the adoption of digital alternatives to paper customs documentation. The threat of cyber attack reared its head as both CMA CGM and MSC were hit with malware attacks, underscoring the need for better cybersecurity across the industry.

While the specific challenges of 2020 prompted the adoption of more digital technology within the industry, we should expect this to persist into 2021 and beyond.

Whatever 2021 holds, True North Marine is your risk mitigation partner. Our team of talented and knowledgeable operators monitor your fleet 24/7 and are overseen by former mariners to ensure our perspective remains client-centric. Ask us about how we can save you money on fuel costs, delays, and everything in-between.