Captain Sustainable:

A view from the bridge

- 22.12.2021

By Tomasz Sulima, Captain of the PCTC Auto Eco

The present high level of greenhouse gas emissions from shipping needs to be reversed. Everyone working onboard ships - from the bridge to the engine room - can make a difference for the environment. And that change can happen now.

The shipping industry emits nearly 1 billion tonnes of CO2 annually, which accounts for 3% of global emissions of about 35 billion tonnes per year, but this could rise to 10% by 2050 if the sector fails to cut pollution while other sectors decarbonise.

UECC took the lead in decarbonisation of shipping five years ago with the launch of the world’s first dual-fuel PCTCs, the Auto Eco and Auto Energy, able to run on liquefied natural gas (LNG) that can reduce emissions by around 25% compared with other fossil fuels.

Emissions cutting-edge

I am proud to serve as captain of the Auto Eco at the cutting edge of emissions reduction on a ro-ro car carrier that already exceeds the IMO’s requirement to cut carbon intensity by 40% within 2030. The vessel, which trades on shortsea routes in northern Europe, is able to complete a 14-day round trip solely on LNG without refuelling, including main engine and auxiliary power generation, which is quite impressive.

But for myself and the rest of the crew onboard, that is not enough. Alternative fuels and abatement technologies are one thing, but we know there is much potential for additional emissions cuts through proactive practical measures that can be taken during the voyage - and it is part of my job to raise awareness of that among the crew.

It starts with understanding the whole process of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as their after-effects. We need to know where these emissions come from and what can be done to reduce them, both in the short and long term, in order to optimise environmental efficiency.

Every tonne of any fuel that we are using to transport goods has a particular volume of energy that has accumulated over millions of years. In the last few centuries, mankind has discovered and developed the tools and devices needed to extract the stored energy and transfer it to movement, heat, power etc.


Maximising cargo intake

The extracted energy propels the vessel on her voyages with cargo and it is our job to utilize it in the most effective manner. Virtually the same amount of energy will be used to move the vessel from port A to port B, regardless of whether the vessel is loaded at 100% or, for example, 85% of its cargo capacity. Therefore, one of the ways to optimise the use of fuel energy is to maximise the cargo intake through effective booking, planning and loading.

The Auto Eco, measuring 181 metres in length with a 30-metre beam, has capacity for 3800 standard-sized cars spread over 10 decks, while it also carries heavy breakbulk cargoes. The vessel, with 1A super Finnish/Swedish ice class, is able to trade year-round in the ice-prone Baltic Sea on its route that includes the ports of Southampton, Zeebrugge, Bremerhaven and St Petersburg.

Another important area for emissions reduction is knowledge of the motion characteristics and hydrodynamics of the vessel. Adjusting the vessel’s trim, which is how the disposition of cargo impacts hull hydrodynamics, can reduce fuel consumption by up to 6%.

Voyage planning

More fuel is required to navigate strong currents, heavy wave forces and high winds so meticulous voyage planning that takes account of prevailing weather and sea conditions is a vital factor in optimising fuel usage. Close and constant monitoring of these environmental conditions enables us to use the currents and winds in our favour to cut voyage duration.

This also entails planning departures and arrivals at the proper time according to tides and currents. Consequently, we are always thinking ahead and cooperating with national trade departments to determine the optimal vessel schedule, which can mean switching ports due to weather to avoid the need for assistance from tugs that also emit greenhouse gases. It is also best to avoid shallow waters as these have higher water resistance that has a negative effect on the vessel’s speed.

In the engine room, proper, professional and proactive maintenance of critical machinery used to drive the ship can have a big impact on performance. These systems need to be kept running efficiently by the crew, which means monitoring and adjusting the main engine along with other system parameters, as well as switching off unnecessary energy consumers.

Curbing emissions as much as possible while in port can be achieved by stopping the main engine and auxiliaries immediately after the vessel is safely moored - or when using locks at Zeebrugge and Bremerhaven - and only starting them just before departure.

Small changes, big difference

Smaller measures can also make a difference to energy consumption, such as turning off unnecessary ventilation fans for the car decks during cargo operations when these are not presently loaded or discharged. Similarly, eliminating the use of unnecessary heaters, lighting and TVs etc can mean that only a small auxiliary generator, rather than a large one, can be used.

It may seem trivial, but even boiling a kettle with only the water needed for a single cup of tea can have an effect as such practices can collectively contribute to energy savings. Some countermeasures may be quite simple while others are more complex and require a lot of effort. The key factor is education, awareness and having the right attitude among the crew to become energy-conscious in order to apply the correct levers to cut emissions through collective teamwork.

It is interesting to note that a study by research firm CE Delft showed that such measures to change operational practices will be necessary to meet the 2030 carbon-intensity target, alongside technical measures. This proves that our efforts are not in vain: making adjustments to cargo planning to change the trim without using ballast or spending an extra hour to adjust the route to save a couple of miles and 50 litres of fuel are worth it.

We have been doing this onboard the Auto Eco for some years now in order to better utilise the energy stored in fuel and thereby gained knowledge through experience to see that even the smallest actions can ultimately have a big impact on emissions.


 Captain Tomasz Sulima of the Auto Eco