Though most consumers do not realise it, maritime transport carries the bulk of the world’s goods. It accounts for 90% of the external trade of the EU where the shipbuilding industry has an annual turnover of €20 billion and a workforce of 350 000.
While transport by sea is safer than in years past – thanks to the introduction of strict controls prompted by several major accidents – there is still room for improvement, notably in vessel design and safety techniques. EU-sponsored research programmes strongly promote the goals of water-borne transport safety and security as basic design objectives – and not mere external constraints – for shipbuilders and operators. By exploiting state-of-the-art research tools and analysis, the right balance between costs, safety and performance can be achieved.
EU research projects also focus on more optimal waterborne mobility regarding navigation and logistics, and new measures to minimise maritime-related pollution and the devastating consequences of oil spills.
Oil spillages and illegal discharges of waste and chemicals at sea are not the only threats to our oceans’ well-being. The mere movement of ships across the seven seas carries a risk of ‘infecting’ one eco-system with the organisms of another. The inadvertent transport of organisms in ballast water and on vessel hulls, for example, can have serious consequences for marine biodiversity.
Current EU research is addressing this problem by exploring:
- treatment of ballast water to remove bio-organisms;
- response to marine accidents;
- technologies for improved inspection, maintenance and repair;
- new paints that do not affect sea life.