Analysis | SHIPPING

Emissions From Smaller Boats Need To Be Addressed

Alison Newell is a Director of Sailing for Sustainability (Fiji) Pte Ltd and the owner of the drua i Vola Sigavou. She is a Fiji-based expert in shipping emissions who has been undertaking research on domestic GHG emissions since 2008 along with the University of the South Pacific.
08 Jul 2020 15:35
Emissions From Smaller Boats Need To Be Addressed

There has been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about the allocation of Research and development (R&D) funding to support the decarbonisation of large ships as part of the COVID-19 economic stimulus responses around the world.

Countries such as Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Germany and others have announced multi-million dollar financing packages for zero-emissions or low-carbon vessel design and trials (for example United Kingdom’s recent announcement of £400m for a Belfast-based project to develop zero emission, high-speed ferries https://www.businessgreen.com/news/4017015/belfast-zero-emission-ferry-project-gbp400m-uk-government-funding-winners).

There has also been discussion on how Fiji could position itself as the regional maritime transport “hub” for new maritime technologies and service the larger vessels from neighbours (Fiji Ship and Heavy Industries Ltd recently mentioned discussions that have been held with Marshall Islands Government which has vessels that aren’t operating at the moment as they can’t be repaired in-country, for example).

However, there has not been a lot of discussion about what actions Fiji can take to address the emissions from the smaller boats that make up the vast majority of the domestic fleet, and are likely to make up the vast majority of emissions from the sector (outboard motors).

As the economic impacts of COVID-19 bite, households and businesses are facing financial hardship. It’s obvious that this situation is going to last for some time, and well into 2021. In recent weeks I’ve heard of a steep decline in the use of village boats as money for premix has been in short supply.

Price shocks

The prices of premix have fluctuated wildly in recent months, reflecting the global oil prices which crashed to negative earlier in the year, but have risen again since. The Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission (FCCC) last week announced an increase of 18 cents/litre up to $1.47/litre for premix (it was over $2/litre in February).

The point here is that Fiji is extremely vulnerable to price shocks because of the fuel being imported and affected by global crude oil prices. And this impacts at the household and village level.

This is nothing new, and we know from past global oil crises that this impacts on the village. I was in Kadavu in 2008 when premix price increases led to reduced frequency in healthcare checks for pregnant women, and kids being taken from school as the cost of transporting the daily rations by boat were too much for villagers to pay.

So what can be done to ensure that local connectivity is not reduced in these hard times, and to make sure that our island and coastal communities are still able to move people and goods by small boat?

Options available

We need to look at the options available which require less or no fossil fuels. Sailing canoes are an obvious solution and the Uto ni Yalo Trust has been instrumental in efforts to revitalise the use of small sailing canoes for fishing communities.

The wind is still free, and whilst perhaps “unreliable” in some situations, when the breeze is good, then provides an invaluable resource that we’re not taking full advantage of. Recent research in Marshall Islands showed that a sailing canoe used for fishing could save over US$3800 a year of fuel when compared to an outboard-powered boat.

Most of the outboards used in Fiji today are 2-strokes. Whilst comparatively cheap and easy to maintain, they are fuel hungry and the least efficient type of small motor.

Four-stroke outboards are considerably more efficient and fuel savings over time can make up for the higher purchase cost, but we need more trained mechanics who can access spare parts and fix these more complicated motors.

Another solution available today is to switch to electric outboards which are commercially available around the world. But we need significant investment in capacity building so that these motors can be maintained and repaired in Fiji. We need fiscal policies that can reduce the comparative costs of purchase (for example a new 30HP electric outboard motor and rechargeable batteries and charger can be purchased for US$23,000, compared to a to-stroke at US$3,300).

Some of this can be achieved by removing the current 32 per cent fiscal duty on Lithium ion batteries, but it will also require access to low interest loans for people to access to make that upfront investment, and in time putting in place fiscal policy that recognises the pollution caused by two-strokes (ECAL policy is in place for cars but not for boats) e.g. imposition of import and fiscal duties for two-strokes.

In the meantime, it’s time to teach our kids to build and sail small boats, then at least they will have the skills and options available to them in the future which will mean they can still move around by sea without the need for outboards.

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