Climate versus sailing schedule

Climate change is triggering increasingly violent storms. Which measures are appropriate when rough seas are looming? Captains and crews can rely on the support provided by StormGeo’s weather routing software and services as well as the Network Operations team at the Hapag-Lloyd headquarters in Hamburg

The world he is looking at is colourful and covered with arrows. On his monitor, Alexander Mizrakhi is checking the weather data, which comes in several times a day. The captain normally works out at sea, often on Far East routes. But, this summer, he is spending three months in the Network Operations department at Hapag-Lloyd’s headquarters in Hamburg. “Here, I’m one of the interfaces between the ships and headquarters,” Mizrakhi says. “So my responsibilities include things like assisting with questions regarding weather routing and forecasting.” Bad weather can quickly become a threat to voyages and ocean crossings and make prudent action necessary. “For example, as soon as a storm warning comes in, the captain on board has to decide whether the ship will stay in port or at anchor, depending on where it is; increase or decrease speed to let the storm pass, or even deviate from its course,” Mizrakhi explains. Weather routing helps captains to make the right decisions, to avoid dangerous situations, and to complete the voyage as efficiently as possible.

Keeping an eye on the world’s weather every day is one of Captain Alexander Mizrakhi’s (r.) tasks. He has an interface function between ships and headquarters

Data and forecasts from across the world are supplied by the global weather intelligence provider StormGeo through their sophisticated s-Suite software. The company’s specialists, who have built up a wealth of expertise over 25 years, serve shipping companies worldwide in addition to energy companies, the offshore industry and various media outlets.

Frode Korneliussen, Head of Operations at StormGeo

"Our job is to make the most accurate predictions possible and to provide the best possible preparation for decision-making"

Changes in the weather resulting from climate change are also a factor in this. Although the number of tropical cyclones hasn’t increased, Korneliussen notes that their intensity has increased significantly – and that this trend is expected to continue. This will force ships to stay in port longer or to take longer detours at sea.

Part of the recommended course of action that StormGeo transmits directly to ships at sea is the preferred course to follow. Then the decision to re-route or not is the captain’s to make. Mizrakhi and his colleagues are available to these captains as a backup. “We naturally want to keep the ship on schedule, if possible,” Mizrakhi notes. “In the end, it’s not only about the ship itself, but also about entire supply chains that are associated with the ship’s arrival. “So, if there’s a delay, some thought may be given to a speed-up. But doing so would require a lot more engine power, which is also reflected in the fuel consumption.” This option is to be avoided as much as possible. After all, thanks to lowering our speed and other measures, we just managed in 2022 to reduce our fuel consumption to 2.35 tonnes per slot – in what was a key contribution to our sustainability efforts. What’s more, the costs arising from a speed-up are not insignificant – especially given that increasing the speed causes fuel consumption to rise exponentially rather than linearly. “This then has to be communicated and negotiated within Hapag-Lloyd and sometimes also with its business partners,” Mizrakhi notes. In the event of a speed-up, Network Operations and the Bunkering department are also provided with new figures on the additional consumption.

Climate change is causing increasingly violent storms

Wherever weather plays a key role, weather forecasts are worth their weight in gold. “That’s why I always try to find the best tools and weather models,” Frode Korneliussen says. He has high hopes for the new possibilities offered by tools like artificial intelligence
(AI) and machine learning. “They will help us enormously. At the moment, we are making weather forecasts for grid squares whose sides are about nine kilometres long. In two years, that could already be five kilometres. And who knows? In a few years, AI might even be able to push that side down to a single kilometre.”

A hurricane can have winds of up to 250 kilometres per hour and only weakens over land or cold waters

What is Hapag-Lloyd doing if a more complicated weather situation arises?

Sustainability is a top priority at Hapag-Lloyd. Using alternative fuels and slow steaming are among the long-term measures available for effectively optimising its carbon footprint. But when the thermometer rises on some routes owing to climate change, it’s also important to safeguard the crew. Wherever possible, air conditioning and ventilation keep temperatures comfortable. The safety management system is designed to protect the crew as well as possible in severe weather. In addition, the trim and loading plan can be adjusted to give the vessel more stability on the water.

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