Maritime influencers


Elpi Petraki: Decarbonization, digitalization, and diversity are the top priorities for the shipping industry

Elpi Petraki, Chartering, Operations and Business Development Manager at ENEA Management, President WISTA International and 2nd Vice President Hellenic Shortsea Shipowners Association

Decarbonization and digitalization alongside diversity are the top priorities for shipping and committing to these issues creates new roles and opportunities that can themselves boost the sustainability of the maritime industries.

We are in a transitional period where the first steps toward the way we will work in the future are being taken. And the ways forward are starting to take shape.

Decarbonisation is essential for the planet’s future and alongside AI and digitalization it will affect the ways the industry works and the workers that do the jobs. It will be a difficult path, but shipping will transform in a positive way if we all work together.

First, we need greater clarity on which of the alternative fuels offered to advance decarbonisation in shipping will be most successful and widely available. Even now LNG fuelling and electric cold ironing facilities are not available at many ports even though both technologies have been available for years.

Today, while many foresee a future where a mix of fuels will be needed to meet decarbonization targets, such a scenario implies huge additional research and development investment by engine makers and shipbuilders.  Furthermore, where large shipping groups may be able to fund experimentation with different options, shipping’s smaller players will need specific – and proven – solutions to retrofit.

Within the next two to three years a lot can be done using relatively easy to apply solutions, such as low friction hull coatings to help vessels move more efficiently through the water and cut fuel use, propeller modifications and even changing lights or fitting solar panels. And we can also look at adding wind sail rotors to assist propulsion.

Digitalization will help us in many ways to make shipping operations more efficient, cutting fuel use, ensuring just-in-time arrivals, and increasing transparency as well as ensuring regulations can be adhered – although we still need global not regional approaches to rules. Sensors on vessels will provide real time operating data too.

For example, much is already being achieved with digital applications like weather routeing, sharing information to ensure spares are onboard, monitoring maintenance and crew matrixes such as rest periods as well as clearer visibility of market information.

We also need to consider the implications of digitalization on the workforce. From one perspective, shipping will be affected by labour shortages, and will need to upskill to prepare seafarers and onshore staff for AI and digital solutions – at a time when more training resources are also needed for cybersecurity, changing trading models and the consequences of global conflicts.

From another point of view, the importance of data and the digital transformation on land and at sea is creating new roles, which help to level the playing field between men and women as both can have the desired skills and experience. Bringing in a wider range of technologies and a wider diversity of talents has the potential to make the growing industry more attractive to the younger generation.

In the same way, adopting solutions that reduce the impact of shipping on the environment can help to create a virtuous circle that attracts the next generations for whom protecting the environment – and indeed diversity – are principles, rather than aspirations.

The 2023 Deloitte Gen Z and Millennial Survey showed that many Gen Z and Millennials make career decisions based on values – they want to work for organisations where they feel empowered to drive change. Dealing with climate change is considered a ‘top three’ value while poor efforts by employers around diversity, equity and inclusion are often cited as a reason for turning down job offers.

At this moment of opportunity, we can capitalise on the momentum to take things to the next level across the issues of decarbonization, digitalization and diversity.

All of them remain a challenge, but by working together we can share the load in overcoming these issues.

We are not talking about women replacing men. Rather, our aim must be to create a fairer, discrimination-free environment where there are equitable opportunities.

It is about inclusion and respecting people from all walks of life for the valuable insights and experience they can offer. The shipping industry needs to show not only that it cares, but how much it is changing to attract new talent.

Research and common sense indicate that diverse teams with different perspectives deliver superior decision-making and results. Acceptance of this is vital in ensuring the maritime industry improves and attracts the new talent that can deliver on decarbonisation and digitalization – otherwise it will be left behind.

On a positive note, according to the 2021 BIMCO/International Chamber of Shipping Seafarer Workforce report, the number of women serving as seafarers has increased by 45.8% compared to 2015.

However, women still only make up 2% of the seafaring workforce and the IMO/WISTA Women in Maritime survey revealed that women only account for 29% of the overall workforce within the maritime industry. I hope the second Women in Maritime Survey in 2025 will show significant improvement.

One area where women are currently represented in greater numbers is the ESG and sustainability sectors, but this cannot be our benchmark for true equality and achieving environmental or technological progress.

Much remains to be done, but the cliché of “actions speak louder than words” has never been truer than it is today. We need to move beyond discussions and start putting measures in places that will bring about lasting change.

We must work together, otherwise it will be impossible to achieve the changes that are needed to secure the industry’s future.

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