Sustainability and regulatory chiefs from these four world leading containership operators, sat together for a rare common outing during an event at European Shipping Week, during which they pushed for coordinated R&D efforts through a new international body, reported London's Lloyd's List.
The panelists gave their full support of an industry-wide proposal for an independently-run $5 billion global research and development fund, powered by mandatory payments based on fuel consumption.
Maersk has been very effective with its own sustainability efforts and has taken on a leadership role in the field, according to director of regulatory affairs Simon Bergulf, who admits the company has not traditionally been good at collaborating with its major competitors.
Maersk was the first major company to demand carbon-neutral vessels by 2030 and claims to have already spent billions on sustainability R&D over the past few years. It will also focus on alcohol, biomethane and ammonia and wants to further narrow down its choice to a single fuel in 2023.
'But what we have done is drying up. If it's drying up for us, it's drying up for everyone. So, we can't continue to do that,' Mr Bergulf said.
Hapag-Lloyd environmental management director Wolfgang Guntermann, whose firm has committed to cutting its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per TEU-kilometre by 20 per cent by 2020 compared to 2006, said sharing ideas with its rivals would have been inconceivable some decades ago.
'It is not a matter of competition, it is a matter of jointly developing these issues,' he said, admitting this is a whole new ballgame for the rivals.
CMA CGM sustainability chief Guilhem Isaac Georges also said it is essential to accelerate R&D to get to zero emissions vessels.
'Betting today on technology to break through in 2035 to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050 seems to us very risky. That is why I insist that we have to take these decisions today,' he said.
The French shipping company has just partnered up with hydrogen tech firm Energy Observe to share resources and expertise.
MSC Group executive vice president for maritime policy Bud Darr admitted that despite the size of the company, it could never produce the necessary R&D breakthroughs on its own.
'To bring together the whole community really is going to take a collaborative effort and sharing the results of what has developed through this fund,' he said.
Three years in the making, since its public unveiling late last year, the R&D fund proposal has been received a mixed reception.
'We are creating a neutral body looking at possibilities over which we do not have the faintest clue. This will enable a level playing field,' Mr Guntermann said in support of the idea.
But others question whether this would delay the adoption of a market-based measure in the UN's International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Mr Darr said there has been 'perhaps deliberate misinformation' on the proposal and said the inability of governments in the IMO to agree on a market-based measure (MBM) in the past is their responsibility.