Falling prices are attracting bolder Greek owners, despite the long-term dilemma of propulsion and decarbonisation
There were 26 new contracts for tankers over 10,000 dwt in August and September 2020, compared to 42 new contracts in the same period in 2019. The weaker level of contracting can be attributed to uncertainty over long-term demand for large tankers with a life expectancy of 20-25 years and also how competitive a traditional ICE propulsion system will be, even with LNG fuelling.
On the plus side, the reported price of US$90M for four VLCCs ordered at Hyundai HI are low by historical standards and have been achieved by Greek owners who have played out this scenario before. Two of the four VLCCs were contracted to Kyklades Maritime (Alafouzos family) adding to the six Suezmax tankers already on order. Evangelos Pistiolis’ Central Mare ordered the other two VLCCs, adding to two already on order. All the VLCCs are believed to be specified with scrubbers, with deliveries from May 2020.
According to shipping consultants BRL, the new contracts are the result of a sales drive by representatives of South Korean shipyards targeting Greek owners during the summer. Further larger tanker contracts at South Korean shipyards are likely to be unveiled as the year progresses.
China is also on a drive to win VLCC orders and is said to be offering incentives for domestic owners and operators to order ships, including a 20% discount from state-owned yards. Privately-owned petrochemicals producer, Zhejiang Rongsheng, is reported to be looking to order up to 30 VLCCs for its new refinery.
BRL reports that Zhejiang Rongsheng is being offered non-dual-fuel VLCCs at between US$83M-US$85M, a very keen price. Bids are expected from CSSC-owned builders Shanghai Waigaoqiao, Guangzhou Shipyard International and Dalian Shipbuilding Industry. The orders are expected to be in units of two to 10 vessels.
Samsung won a contract for two Suezmax tankers from Nordic American Tankers (NATS). These contracts may represent the start of a fleet renewal process of the Suezmax tanker NATS fleet, which has an average age of 12-years old, with one Suezmax tanker dating back to 2000.
“The NaabsaMAX hull allows the tanker to safely settle on the seabed of the harbour basin”
On the product tanker side, Bahri chief executive Abdullah Aldubaikhi announced an order for 10, 50,000-dwt chemical carriers from Hyundai Mipo. The vessel purchase agreement comes as part of Bahri’s ongoing endeavours aimed at expanding its marine capabilities and renewing its fleet. Scheduled to start being delivered during Q1 2022, the 10 chemical tankers will be built to the highest environmental, fuel-efficiency and safety standards, in line with the company’s commitment to operating responsibly.
Commenting on the agreement, Mr Aldubaikhi said: “As a company committed to contributing to Saudi Arabia’s maritime goals set out in Vision 2030, Bahri has always remained keen on the continual enhancement of its enormous fleet of state-of-the-art multi-purpose vessels. The new agreement with HMD for building 10 high-spec chemical tankers represents a major step forward in our next phase of growth and further strengthens our leading position in the global maritime industry. With the newbuilds entering our fleet over the next two years, we will be further equipped to cater to the varying needs of our customers around the world.”
The new order will bring the tally of various types of vessels that Hyundai Mipo has built for Bahri to 61 vessels.
Completions in August and September 2020 amounted to some 60 tankers named or launched, if not yet fully operational in the active fleet, similar to the number in 2019. From a technical and operational point of view, the most interesting tanker to be delivered in August 2020 was Thun Blyth. This is a Thun Tankers vessel that has been optimised to serve ports in the UK that have a high tidal range. This is a unique design of a Not Always Afloat But Aground tanker (NaabsaMAX).
The NaabsaMAX hull configuration is designed to allow the tanker to safely settle on the seabed of the harbour basin without placing undue strain on the hull, rudder, or propulsion system. Thun Tankers chief operating officer Joakim Lund said: “These ships are built to maximise the intake of our client, Geos Group, calling into restricted niche ports. The NaabsaMAX vessels will be able to carry more cargo into these ports than any vessel has done before.”
At the other end of the scale, Russia took a significant step forward on the world shipbuilding stage with sea-trials commencing in September of the Aframax tanker Vladimir Monomakh, which is the first of 12 dual-fuel LNG ICE-1A ice-class tankers signed for by President Vladimir Putin in September 2017. Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex in the Far East region of Russia performed the steel cutting of the fifth in the series in February 2020 and the series is due to be competed in 2024. Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex has also received an order for 14 large LNG carriers. It is understood that Samsung in South Korea is building the hull building blocks for assembly and completion by the Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex.
Not strictly a new contract or completion, but an indicator of how a pressing dilemma – ordering a tanker with a life expectancy of 25 years and still surviving the change from traditional fuel through to net zero carbon emissions – might be solved, was highlighted by a project in Norway.
An Odfjell chemical tanker will be the test-bed for a new, flexible fuel-cell technology project featuring input from Odfjell Tankers, Prototech, Wärtsilä and Lundin Energy Norway.
The key feature of the project is new technology that allows many different types of fuel, including green ammonia and LNG, to be used as the source for the fuel cell. With this flexibility, vessels can choose fuel according to availability. Odfjell’s vice president of technology Erik Hjortland said: “Ships are to be operated for 20-30 years, and we need flexible solutions that can meet future emissions requirements. The fuel-cell project is one of the paths we are pursuing. We focus on machinery rather than focusing on one single type of fuel. Fuel-cell technology gives us flexibility that ensures environmentally efficient operation, regardless of fuel changes that may occur in the years ahead.”
“Fuel-cell technology gives us flexibility, regardless of fuel changes that may occur in the years ahead”
On the sale and purchase side, activity in the tanker sector continues to throttle down. From 175 transactions in August and September 2019, the sector managed just 64 in the same period of 2020. Notable sales included an en bloc transaction by Stolt Tankers.
Stolt Tankers strengthened its fleet with the purchase of five chemical carriers from US-based Chemical Transport. The five 26,000 dwt to 27,500 dwt chemical carriers, built at China Merchant Jinling (formerly Avic Dingheng) between 2016 and 2017, are: CTG Argon; CTG Bismuth; CTG Cobalt; CTG Magnesium; and CTG Mercury. No price has been disclosed for the en bloc sale, which is expected to close between December 2020 and February 2021.
Commenting on the purchase, Stolt Tankers president Lucas Vos said: “This acquisition is an excellent opportunity for Stolt Tankers to replace ships being retired in the next few years, lowering our fleet age profile with competitively priced ships that can trade in any of our deep-sea lanes. Newer, fuel-efficient ships help us reduce our carbon footprint while buying existing tonnage means capacity is not added to a market that does not need it. In a cyclical industry like ours, buying the right ships at the right price is the path to financial sustainability., Stolt Tankers’ customers are the real winners in this deal, as these ships will support our proven platform that provides a high quality, reliable and flexible service offering.”