It seemed that United Arab Shipping Co (UASC) was taking a risk by making its new Asia-Europe trade container ships dual-fuel vessels ahead of LNG supply infrastructure, but it has now emerged that the company had a card up its sleeve.
It unveiled plans in January to establish an LNG bunkering station in the Middle East to allow its ultra large new container ships to refuel on outbound and inbound legs on the Asia – Europe trade, possibly accomplished by LNG bunkering vessels.
In an exclusive discussion with Marine Propulsion, David Bull, a senior consultant at Ocean Shipping Consultants, offered his view on UASC’s strategy. “These first orders for really big vessels to be made gas-ready send a clear message out that UASC expect large scale gas bunkering facilities to get up and running,” he said.
The current newbuildings underway in Hyundai Heavy Industries’ South Korean yards cover an order of five 18,000 teu vessels plus one option, with another five 14,000 teu vessels that have a further six options waiting in the wings.
The gas side of the dual-fuel system has gained an ‘approval in principle’ from DNV GL. It was developed through co-operation between Japan Marine United (JMU) IHI and Hyundai Heavy Industries and covers both the fuel tanks and the gas delivery system. Although the final tank design is to be arranged at the time of retrofit, the proposed low pressure IHI-SPB tanks allow a greater volume of fuel to be stored onboard than any other LNG-powered vessel to date, the project partners claim.
Hitherto, those vessels have generally been ferries, ro-pax and small vessels, which are easier to bunker, by truck if need be.
From that, “it is a very big step up to these vessels,” Mr Bull said. “At the moment the maximum bunkering capability we have stands at a few thousand cubic metres, without replenishing. This falls far short of the amount that even one of these big ships will need.”
He went on to explain that even if these box ships called at Singapore, Rotterdam or other big LNG import amenities, they would not be able to use their gas terminals for bunkering as they are arranged as cargo receiving terminals. The container vessels would have to use another dedicated berth or large bunkering vessel.
So UASC’s solution “makes sure it is in a perfect position to be first in line,” he said. MP
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