Harnessing Innovative Water Solutions for Sustainable Shipping

Worth over $430 billion in goods and services, the global maritime industry is the world’s largest infrastructure and it’s most vital.

It is responsible for the movement and safe passage of over 90% of imports and exports and many countries rely entirely on the sustainability and continuity of safe, reliable shipping.

Over 2 million seafarers worldwide are responsible for keeping everything moving, often undertaking their roles in difficult or dangerous conditions. Their safety is of paramount importance to secure a robust, constant flow of trade, goods and passengers across the seas.

Meeting the essential needs of seafarers and ensuring their safety and comfort on voyages is a primary concern for vessel owners, operators and ship management companies. Taking care of seafarers is the key to ensuring a sustainable shipping network that functions well and with minimal interruption to services.

What must be done to provide seafarers with fresh food, safe, drinkable water and adequate rest on long ocean journeys?

First of all, it’s important to grasp the potential complexities of guaranteeing that all seafarers and those repairing, maintaining and running vessels across the globe have all they need to work safely and sustainably.

What Issues Do Seafarers Face?

The two most essential and primary concerns for seafarers and those ensuring and supplying their provisions are the continual, safe and sustainable resources of fresh food and water during voyages.

Of these two, potable water is by far the greater concern and has been since the dawn of sea travel.

In recent years added to this most essential of concerns has been the need to examine and implement better, more sustainable and environmentally sound practices to maintain this continuous supply and provision.

For all stakeholders within the maritime industry, not only seafarers but ship owners, operators and vessel management firms, sustainable practices that maintain the health and wellbeing of all aboard is the only way forward.

Older and more outdated approaches no longer serve in many instances. This means it will be the forward-thinking and future-proofing efforts of organisations looking for better, more innovative and sustainable practices and solutions who will rise to meet current and future challenges in the maritime industry.

In many ways, the provision, supply and storage of fresh, drinkable water is the ideal conduit through which to explore new ways of thinking about sustainable shipping solutions.

How Is Fresh Water Provided Onboard?

For decades, the main way of providing safe drinkable water onboard has been through single use plastic water bottles. Obviously the proliferation of single use plastic and its huge environmental impact is now rarely out of the news. It is one of the largest issues facing the shipping industry and rapid, widespread changes are needed.

In cases where water in plastic bottles is not used onboard, drinking water is stored in tanks and pumped onto the vessel via a network of hoses from a municipal or local supply at the port or dock. Although using less plastic overall, inherent issues in this method of water supply and storage come from the potential contamination of the water during the pumping and storage processes. There are multiple instances during the water’s journey from shore to ship where damaging bacterias and pathogens could be present and introduced, making it a less than perfect system and potentially hazardous to passengers and seafarers.

Is There Another Way?

Yes, there are other ways, and innovation in maritime water solutions are gathering pace and becoming more widespread.

The simple answer is that the mass use of plastic water bottles that are not designed to be reused or refilled cannot continue in the volumes we have seen in recent years. In the same way, the ongoing use of pumped water through hoses and pipes that may not be clean or regularly maintained is also not a long term solution.

Crews, passengers and seafarers on vessels and fixed rigs of all types need continual and safe access to water and therefore new methods must be found and implemented to make this vital infrastructure sustainable.

What Are Innovative Water Solutions?

There are a number of new and emerging methods for supplying fresh water onboard vessels of all types and the future of this essential aspect of maritime provisions is at the forefront of science and innovation.

Among the solutions being presented, trailed and implemented are:

Filtration

In which onboard filtration systems work to clean and make safe any water obtained from port or gathered via rainwater collection during the voyage. Filtration offers greater sustainability, lower costs and can also be designed to retain essential minerals within the water that could benefit seafarers, for example magnesium, calcium, zinc and fluoride.

Reverse Osmosis

RO treats any existing or gathered supply to create safe drinking water. Any dangerous contaminants like chlorine, lead, mercury and arsenic are removed as are any pathogens. This approach uses stored water onboard or collected rainwater and mitigates the needs for single use plastic bottles. RO systems are simple and cost effective to install and maintain, any repairs can be undertaken by trained crew members, further reducing the cost implications.

In addition to these established methods are some exciting advances in the scientific field of safe water provision. These include innovations in water desalination, nanotechnology and solar technology to filter, treat and create sustainable drinking water supplies not just at sea but for communities struggling with access to potable water across the globe.

Final Thoughts

Although in many cases ship management companies and vessel owners are already looking to the future and installing more sustainable marine water solutions onboard, there is much more to do to create a truly sustainable maritime industry.

RO and filtration systems are excellent first steps towards this goal and the technological innovations outlined above are providing a great deal of hope with regards to a continued supply of fresh drinking water, with systems that can be used both on land and at sea.