There are two very good reasons why Hong Kong's shipping sector should move quickly to prepare for the new global cap on sulphur emissions. The first is environmental; the second, economic.
By 2020, the permitted level of sulphur in marine fuel will be cut to 0.5% from the current 3.5%. To meet this standard, a move towards vessels powered by the cleaner liquefied natural gas (LNG) is widely anticipated. Hong Kong should act now to make sure it is ready for the changes this new standard will bring.
The environmental benefits have been highlighted by the International Maritime Organization. It says the change will have a significant impact on people living in port cities and coastal communities, which is applicable to all of us here in Hong Kong.
Everyone will surely be happy to see a reduction in harmful emissions. Pollution is an issue that has caused problems for the city in attracting and retaining talent. And of course we all want a cleaner environment for our own good health and the well-being of our friends, family and the wider community.
The second reason Hong Kong should be prepared for this change is because it will help our competitiveness in this crucial sector.
Hong Kong was built on trade, and the shipping industry remains hugely important to our economy. But we are facing a great deal of competition from other ports, including Singapore, Busan and several Mainland cities.
Already, the global shipping industry is planning ahead, and more and more LNG vessels, including container ships and cruise liners are in the pipeline. If we cannot provide the necessary facilities, these vessels will go elsewhere.
Making sure our shipping facilities are not just up to date, but in the vanguard of new developments, is one way to ensure we are the first port of call.
We also need to put the physical infrastructure in place. The Hong Kong Government is already planning the establishment of a Hong Kong Offshore LNG Terminal. It would seem an obvious solution to kill two birds with one stone and add bunkering areas and barge facilities to this project.
Manpower is an essential part of the picture. We need to check if Hong Kong has the trained personnel available for this switch to cleaner fuels. If not, we must start recruiting and training sooner rather than later.
We know that the Government is committed to supporting the maritime sector. Chamber members learned on a recent visit to the Maritime Service Training Institute about the wide range of programmes and high-tech teaching methods available to train staff across all areas of the industry.
The Chamber will be happy to lend its expertise to the Government in developing plans to prepare for the emissions cap.
Reducing harmful emissions in the shipping sector shows that the demands of environmental campaigners and the interests of business are not mutually exclusive. If we act quickly, we can set an example to the world in both areas.