Waves of change

Competition for global resources demands a ‘new ocean’ industry

Lisa Roner
3 May 2013

4 min read

As the world’s population grows, demand for food, water and natural resources like oil, gas and minerals does, too. The seas provide a largely untapped resource that is simply waiting to be harvested. The Marine & Offshore industry is bringing innovation, plus a renewed environmental focus, to that quest.

Global challenges abound. The world’s population is growing, industrialization is expanding and competition for limited energy and mineral resources is increasing. In many locations, fresh water and adequate food are in short supply, and everywhere the world hungers for a clean environment.

Despite difficult economic times during the recent global recession, the Marine & Offshore (M&O) industry – with its expertise in shipbuilding, fishing, global transport, marine mining, and offshore energy production – is uniquely positioned to help the world tap its most underutilized and promising resource: the 70% of the planet that lies under the sea. (The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that 95% of the seabed remains unexplored.)


The shipping business transports 90% of the world’s food products and energy and “has raised the standard of living virtually everywhere by shuttling products and commodities from where they’re most efficiently produced to where they’re most profitably consumed,” said Lori Ann LaRocco in her new book, Dynasties of the Sea: The Shipowners and Financiers Who Expanded the Era of Free Trade.

But the sea has value well beyond shipping, value that can contribute to solving many of the world’s challenges while creating significant economic returns. “We all depend on the oceans, the planet’s last great wilderness, for our very existence,” said Thilo Bode, former international executive director of Greenpeace. Writer Clyde W. Burleson agrees. “The seas are our future,” Burleson wrote in his book Deep Challenge: Our Quest for Energy Beneath the Sea. “The mineral riches lying beneath the waves are incalculable.”


The shipping business transports 90% of the world’s food products and energy.

Around the globe, marine and offshore interests are rising to the challenge to help realize the sea’s potential, with safer ships and offshore technologies that are cleaner, greener, and more efficient in delivering the world’s cargo, exploring the ocean floor, and harvesting the sea’s bounty. The M&O industry also is addressing the world’s need for new sources of energy, from safer offshore drilling technologies to innovative new processes of energy production.


To make shipping more sustainable, changes in safety and environmental regulations, including proposals to reduce sulfur and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from ships, will require modifications to existing vessels and usher in a new breed of vessel designed with the environment in mind. One impressive example is the Danish shipbuilder Maersk’s new “Triple-E” container vessel.

The line’s name comes from the three main purposes behind its creation — economy of scale, energy efficiency and environmental improvements. The ships will set a new industry benchmark for size and fuel efficiency; at 400 meters long, 59 meters wide and 73 meters high, the Triple-E is the largest vessel of any type on the water today. Its 18,000 TEU (20-foot equivalent unit) capacity is 16% greater (an increase of 2,500 containers) than today’s largest container vessel, the Emma Maersk.

Despite its size the Triple-E, which is being built by Korean shipyard Daewoo, is designed to be more efficient to operate as well. Maersk says the monstrous cargo vessel will produce 20% less CO2 per container moved compared to its Emma Maersk and 50% less than the industry average on the Asia-Europe trade lane. In addition, the ship will consume approximately 35% less fuel per container than the 13,100 TEU vessels set to be delivered in the next few years.

“We believe the Triple-E ships, with their record capacity and energy efficiency, will enable us to deliver on the commercial and environmental expectations of our customers and also give us a significant competitive advantage in the market,” said Eivind Kolding, CEO of Maersk Line.


Barrie Stevens, director of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) International Futures program, predicts the emerging ocean industry also will require increasingly specialized vessels and structures, from ultra- deep-water drilling ships, rigs and offshore supply vessels to ice-resistant ships and ocean-energy devices.

Ecoceane’s innovative oil-spill- response vessels are a great example. Traditional spill clean-up vessels recover 75% water and 25% hydrocarbons, which are separated later. But French-based Ecoceane’s system separates the water from the oil at the start, preventing emulsion. The Catamar vessel, for example, can recover more than 100 cubic meters of hydrocarbon per hour, ten times higher than traditional anti-pollution operations.

Another specialized technology is Shell’s Prelude floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) facility, planned for a location off the coast of Australia. With LNG trade expected to double by 2035, Shell says Prelude will allow it to access offshore gas fields that would otherwise be too costly or difficult to develop.

At 488 meters long and 74 meters wide, Prelude will be the world’s largest floating offshore facility. The mega-platform will chill natural gas produced at the field to –162°C, shrinking its volume by 600 times for shipment to customers worldwide. Oceangoing carriers will load the LNG, as well as other liquid by-products (condensate and Liquified Propane Gas), for delivery to market. The Prelude FLNG facility will produce at least 3.6 million tons per year of LNG.

“Making FLNG a reality is no simple feat,” said Matthias Bichsel, director of Projects & Technology for Shell. “Shell is uniquely positioned to make it a success, given our commercial capability; our LNG, offshore, deepwater and marine technology; and our proven ability to successfully deliver megaprojects.”


Innovation abounds throughout the industry, particularly in applications related to offshore energy production.

In the field of Marine Renewable Energy, Edinburgh-based Pelamis Wave Power, and Minesto, a Swedish company, are energy-innovation leaders.

Pelamis, for example, has developed a novel offshore wave-energy converter, also called Pelamis. The semi- submerged, articulated structure, which is composed of cylindrical sections linked by hinged joints, turns the motion created by waves into electricity by using hydraulic rams to drive the generators. The technology is being used by energy companies that include Scottish Power and Électricité de France (EDF).

Minesto, meanwhile, is designing underwater kites that harness tidal energy. Arne Quappen, development manager at Minesto, said the revolutionary technology makes it possible to install and operate energy plants in areas where no other known technology can operate cost effectively.

36,122 m²

Measuring 488 meters long and 74 meters wide, the Shell Prelude floating liquified natural gas (FLNG) facility will be the world’s largest, with an annual capacity of 3.6 million tons.

Companies involved in offshore production of traditional oil and gas resources also are innovating to better protect the environment. For example, UK-based Technip Umbilical Systems provides the underwater lifelines that connect oil and gas wells to ships, offshore platforms or onshore terminals. Typical umbilical design life is 25 years, but environmentally committed Technip designs to a higher standard. “For a 25-year design life, we design for 250 years in terms of fatigue,” said Ian Probyn, senior engineer, R&D, at Technip Umbilical Systems. “With offshore umbilicals, failure is not an option.”


Examples of similar dedication and creativity pervade the M&O industry. The challenges are many, but so are the opportunities. Economically and environmentally, in fields ranging from shipping to energy to deep-sea mining, the potential for the Marine & Offshore industry to help make the world a more sustainable and prosperous home for all of its people are as boundless as the oceans themselves.

Related resources


Register here to receive a monthly update on our newest content.