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BRUSSELS: Following the introduction of the world’s first carbon market for maritime shipping in January, a study by Transport & Environment (T&E) suggests container shipping companies are making significant profits from charging customers a surcharge to offset their emissions.

This year operators will only have to pay 40 percent of the offset cost of their emissions – increasing to 70 percent in 2025 and 100 percent the following year.

T&E looked at 565 journeys of 20 different ships from each of Europe’s four box companies: Maersk, MSC, CMA CGM and Hapag-Lloyd.

Based on an official carbon price of €90, T&E estimates Maersk will average a €60,000 surcharge per voyage this year followed by MSC (€25,000), Hapag Lloyd (€23,000) and CMA CGM (€14,000).

On a single journey from China to Germany the watchdog says Maersk is likely to make €325,000 in surcharge profits while Hapag Lloydʼs most profitable single journey will be €204,000, MSCʼs €125,000 and CMA CGMʼs €139 000.

“Shipping giants are ripping off customers by using environmental measures as a way to charge customers more. Whether it is disruption in the Red Sea or a new carbon price, shipping companies always win,” comments T&E Shipping manager Jacob Armstrong. “Southern European governments are warning that the ETS will cost them business by ships evading their ports, but why would they if they’re making money from it?”

T&E notes ETS costs are also much less than levies imposed in response to attacks by Houthi militants on Red Sea trade. The organisation calculates CMA CGM’s ETS costs on routes from Asia to Europe are less than one percent of a total container cost compared to the Red Sea surcharge of nearly 18 percent.

“The Red Sea disruption is pretty much as bad as it gets and global trade still hasn’t ground to a halt. The ETS is peanuts in comparison. Cost is not a barrier to shipping decarbonisation when the most ambitious green measures would add just cents to most consumer goods,” Armstrong adds.

In its March 2024 update on global trade, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) explains shipping is a highly international business. So a single attack on a vessel carrying consumer goods, food, medical items and industrial spare parts for several thousands importers and exporters has a worldwide impact:

“A typical (container) ship may be built in the Republic of Korea, crewed by Filippino seafarers recruited through a crewing agency based in Cyprus, owned by a German investment fund, technically inspected by an Indian classification society, registered under the flag of the Marshall Islands, insured by a protection and indemnity club in Norway, fuelled at a bunkering station in Singapore and operated by liner shipping company in Denmark.”

As geopolitical tensions continue to disrupt Red Sea and Suez Canal shipping routes and efforts to maintain water levels in reservoirs supplying the Panama Canal are expected to continue reducing transit volume this year, UNCTAD forecasts a rise in shipping costs “along with extended voyages and disrupted supply chains”.
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