VoyageVert: Swap flying for sailing the Atlantic

sailing the atlantic voyagevert

Long distance travellers should have an environmentally friendly alternative to flying, according to VoyageVert, the pioneers behind a new breed of fast passenger ships for sailing the Atlantic and beyond.

Long haul flights account for 750 million tons of CO2 emitted into our atmosphere each year and there is currently no practical alternative.

VoyageVert wants to offer travel by fast sailing ships as stepping stones between continents so that travellers do not have to fly or use fossil-fuel powered vessels. The team aims to have a trans-Atlantic passenger service in operation by 2020. Perhaps the ubiquitous fly/drive holiday will face competition from a sustainable alternative. Sail/cycle trip anyone?

Over 50,000 ships ply the world’s oceans to carry an estimated 90 per cent of everything we buy, sell and consume. And yet shipping remains the only sector of the European economy not covered by the EU’s existing emissions reduction target, which is surprising given that emissions from international maritime transport have grown by 70% since 1990. There is little doubt the Paris climate agreement’s target of limiting global warming by less than 2°C will be near impossible without curbing shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions – not least because a recent European Parliament study found that shipping will be responsible for 17% of total emissions in 2050 if left unregulated.

The environmental impact of shipping includes significant emissions of CO2 and sulphur, sound pollution that is detrimental to marine life and contamination of the seas through the dumping of bilge and ballast water.

It is not yet clear if shipping will eventually be brought into a revised emissions trading scheme or whether it will instead contribute to a compensation fund, but in the meantime, design improvements are being driven not by regulation, but market forces including an oversupply of ships.

Ships can reduce their emissions include burning cleaner fuel, chemically “scrubbing” their exhaust, more efficient hull and propeller design and even the use of traction kites. A company called SkySails has developed a range of giant kites for use by diesel-powered freighters which can reduce a ship’s fuel costs by up to one third, depending on wind conditions.

shipping using skysails at sea

Other freighters are now equipped with rotor sails, huge cylindrical drums that use the wind to help drive the ship forward. Fuel savings of between six and ten per cent are possible with such systems.

However, a reluctance to invest in renewables and very little political incentive means these trials are unlikely to widespread uptake. Most importantly, the price of oil has plummeted from $120 to $40 a barrel, which means that in the absence of pollution tariffs it doesn’t make financial sense for most ship owners to invest in these high-tech products.

Another alternative for the very largest container ships in the medium term is nuclear. Reactor-powered military ships can operate for 25 years without the need to re-fuel and the latest Russian ice breakers are powered in this way.

Your journey. Our world

The ETA has been voted an ethical company in Britain for the second year running by the Good Shopping Guide.

Beating household-name insurance companies such as John Lewis and the Co-op, the ETA earned an ethical company index score of 89.

The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. Twenty six years on, it continues to offer cycle insurance, travel insurance and breakdown cover while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all it does.

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