Business of Shipping: The LNG Bunkering Era is Here

Ira Breskin
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February 24, 2020
File photo shows the LNG-powered Isla Bella at the port of Jacksonville, Florida. Photo: JAXPORT Marine Unit/NASSCO

By Ira Breskin – The Liquid Natural Gas bunkering era is here.

That’s the loud and clear message sent last week at the LNG for 2020:  Fueling Tomorrow’s Shipping conference held at SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx, NY.

The data are clear. While the size of the current and soon-to-be sailing LNG-powered fleet is modest, the growth rate (from a small base) is extraordinary, said Gianpaolo Benedetti, senior technical advisor for the seven-year-old Society for Gas as Marine Fuel.

Bolstering LNG bunker fuel demand is its low emissions when burned, and it being price competitive with low-sulfur diesel fuel.

Now, about 177 deep draft commercial vessels use LNG as a fuel, with more than 200 on order, Benedetti, said.  That compares with a 60,000 big commercial ship fleet worldwide, he added.

Prominent early LNG-powered vessel operators include BC Ferries in Canada, Carnival Cruise Line and Tote Maritime.

Two Tote LNG-powered container vessels, Isla Belle and Perla de Caribe, now provide service between Jacksonville, FL and San Juan, PR.  By the first quarter of 2021, Tote will covert to LNG power its two 17-year-old vessels – Midnight Sun and North Star– that now sail between Tacoma, WA and Anchorage, AK.

Container ship operators CMA CGM and Hapag Lloyd each have retrofit a ship for LNG-power and shortly are expected to increase the size of their respective LNG-powered fleets. Moreover, BC Ferries plans to purchase five LNG-powered newbuilds.  And Carnival, which now operates two LNG-powered cruise ships, has ordered 20 more, said Kevin Blake, director, Carnival Cruise Line.

Such demand results, in part, from LNG bunker fuel becoming more readily available. LNG bunkering services now are provided at 79 ports worldwide including Jacksonville, FL; Port Fourchon, LA; Rotterdam and Singapore. Service is expected to be available shortly in Marseille-Fos and Fort Lauderdale, FL.

And increasingly, the fuel is being delivered by bunker vessels, with 10 now in operation, Benedetti said.

Finally, speakers noted that operators of newly christened LNG-powered vessel can tap the needed operating and crew training expertise from officers sailing on the large fleet of LNG cargo carriers.  The LNG carrier fleet now exceeds 400, with some having been operating for decades.

Ira Breskin
Ira Breskin

Business of Shipping is a column from Ira Breskin, a senior lecturer at State University of New York Maritime College in the Bronx, NY and author of The Business of Shipping (9th edition, 2018), a primer that explains shipping economics, operations and regulations.

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