Not only are TOTE’s vessels the first box ships to run on LNG, but the US operator has launched bunkering initiatives to help other container ship owners to use this fuel
US container ship operator TOTE was the world’s first operator to run container ships on LNG – and it has achieved another first by introducing the first LNG bunkering barge within the US.
The company’s two 233-m Marlin-class vessels Isla Bella and Perla Del Caribe were delivered at the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016 respectively by US shipyard General Dynamics NASSCO and now operate between Jacksonville, Florida, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
They are doing their part in encouraging other container ship operators to use LNG. Isla Bella celebrated its three-year anniversary in October 2018. TOTE executive vice president Peter Keller said “The ships have been operating extremely well, and continue to operate every day, which proves the point to the rest of the industry that it is safe to use, there have been no incidents and the ships run on schedule every week.”
In Q4 last year, the vessels began to be bunkered by the first LNG bunkering barge in the US. Before this, they used a temporary solution, a purpose-built transfer skid. Now the barge has arrived, Mr Keller believes it could be used by other container operators.
The skid bunkered 25 LNG ISO containers a week at Jacksonville Port within five hours using a purpose-built transfer skid. Tote’s proprietary skid has reduced the time taken to bunker by around 30 hours as it can bunker from four trucks at once. Mr Keller explained the skid-mounted loading manifold was developed to Tote’s specification and built by Applied Cryogenics Technology in Texas.
Explaining how the skid could boost the market for other operators, Mr Keller said “This is important for smaller ports and areas that do not want a barge, as it is a great system without making major adjustments and spending a lot of money. It also suits smaller container ships.”
He said that he and the vendor of the skid were “were actively trying to market it”.
Meanwhile, TOTE has started using its LNG bunker barge, delivered by Conrad Industries. The vessel, with 2,200-m3 LNG capacity is being used in the Port of Jacksonville, Florida, where the Marlin-class container ships are bunkered on their service sling between Jacksonville and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The construction and operation of the bunker barge involved both class society ABS and the US Coast Guard, and it uses GTT’s LNG membrane (an atmospheric-pressure containment) system. This is the first time this has been installed in a non self-propelled barge in the US.
Explaining why the company decided to use a barge, Mr Keller said “We felt that the barge was better for the long term, as we are talking [about using it] for 25-30 years.” He said the double skids were “extremely heavy”, so the barge has its own arm to lift hoses and an automatic anchor system. And Mr Keller is hopeful the barge will also aid the take-up of LNG by container ship operators. “It has been made to support the marketplace, not just TOTE, and we intend to market our barge to other potential users.”
The barge takes three hours to bunker each of TOTE’s vessels.
TOTE is also converting the rest of its fleet to dual-fuel LNG: TOTE’s Orca-class roros are being retrofitted by General Dynamics NASSCO. TOTE has entered into a contract with MAN Diesel & Turbo for it to develop a conversion kit for the Orca vessels’ engines so they can operate as dual-fuel machines. The conversion kit was tested at the end of last year. Delivery of the vessels is expected in 2020.
Mr Keller said if the company decided to add to its fleet, it would “certainly” choose to use LNG, because “as a company we embrace LNG, as we have so much investment in this, and we see it as a strong market.”
Boosting industry LNG adoption
Mr Keller is chairman of multi sector industry coalition SEA\LNG, of which TOTE is a member. It was created to accelerate LNG’s adoption as a marine fuel.
Speaking about SEA\LNG’s work, he said “Our role is to facilitate [the use of LNG] and let shipowners know that it is safe, readily available, absolutely compliant, and financially very viable, especially considering costs of compliant fuel after 2020. LNG solves the core issue of the fuel.
“People are getting comfortable with the technology. LNG really does work well, we can’t stress the safety issue too much.”
He singled out that the most important activities were to provide education, additional information and data to the industry.
He said “With the exception of cruise, most of the sectors are not performing terribly well, so there are not a lot of discretionary funds to build ships, and the current newbuild order for container ships compared to years past is not strong. But as we get beyond 2020 and owners see the cost of compliant fuel, and want to but may not be able to pass on the costs, that is a concern. So education, fuel costs and investment required continue to move as the market gets bigger, and the price typically become more competitive over time.”
He summed up “If we take all those factors together, while we are not yet at a tipping point, as many have suggested, I do think we have a significant amount of initiative and that will continue to move forward.”
SEA\LNG has a bunker navigator tool on its website for operators to see where LNG bunkering is available. “I am surprised to see how many ports have storage capability or lifting capability,” he said.
Meanwhile, he applauds the role that TOTE has taken in helping to introduce LNG to the container shipping industry. “Our ownership took the risk and the innovative step to move forward with LNG, and they certainly need to be congratulated for taking that risk and making it easier for others to embrace technology and say what works well and what is financially viable. More than anything, it is environmentally viable for the people that we serve."
Peter Keller (TOTE)
Peter Keller joined TOTE in February 2012 as president of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico. He is also chairman of SEA\LNG.
From 2000 until 2010, Mr Keller was executive vice president and chief operating officer of NYK Group Americas.
He was a member of the board of directors of Pacific Maritime Association, Pacific Maritime Shipping Association and the United States Maritime Exchange.
Mr Keller was inducted into the International Maritime Hall of Fame in 2006 at the United Nations in New York.