July 9, 2019
First LNG Retrofit Project for a Container Ship Planned

For the first time, a large container ship will be converted to LNG propulsion. In May 2020, Huarun Dadong shipyard will equip Hapag-Lloyd's Sajir with a dual-fuel system that will allow the five-year-old vessel to burn LNG and — as a backup — low-sulphur fuel.

'What many people don’t realise is that it’s not simply a new filter that’s being installed; technically, we’re completely reinventing the wheel here,' Captain Richard von Berlepsch, Managing Director Fleet Management at Hapag-Lloyd told DNV GL for a new container insights publication. 'It may be compared to the moment when steam boats replaced sailing ships.'

The 15,000 TEU Sajir was the first of a total of seventeen “LNG-ready” ships that entered service from 2014 for United Arab Shipping (UASC). DNV GL confirmed the “LNG-ready”-concept including void spaces and steel strength as an industry first back then. The retrofit will take three months starting in May 2020 and will cost 30 million US dollars. In addition to the shipyard, DNV GL and engine maker MAN are closely involved in the project. 

LNG System Takes up an Area of 290 Containers

The conversion, which is to follow several months of preparatory steel work by yard workers in China, will enable the Sajir to cut its CO2 emissions by about twenty per cent, while reducing sulphur dioxide and particulate matter by more than ninety per cent once it returns to its route from Asia to northern Europe via the Suez Canal. The planned works include the installation of a DNV GL approved gas storage system covering an area equivalent to 290 containers. The new membrane tank will be capable of storing up to 6700 cubic metres of gas, meaning the vessel will have to bunker twice per round trip.

Paving the Way for Similar Retrofits

The total number of LNG-fuelled ships on order, ready for conversion or already operating add up to 93 container vessels — more than any other ship type. Focusing on the number of LNG-powered ships at sea, however, container shipping is far behind. As the shipping industry is set to face increasingly stringent emissions rules in the years ahead, Hapag-Lloyd’s pilot may well be paving the way for similar retrofits in the future.

2019 has seen a positive trend in orders for LNG-fuelled vessels across all ship types with a net order increase of 22 ships in the first quarter, most of them large ocean-going vessels, according to DNV GL’s Alternative Fuels Insight database. The total number of LNG ships has passed the threshold of 300 with about half of them already in operation and the remaining ones on order.

LNG Supply Chain in Europe

Looking at Europe, the supply side is still a mixed bag. While countries such as France, the UK, the Netherlands, Poland and Lithuania are already operating import terminal facilities, Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is still in the planning phase with the government expecting at least two terminals to be built. The first larger LNG tankers suitable for big merchant vessels like the Sajir are due to enter service in mid-2020.

Scrubbers and Low-sulphur Fuel

Hapag-Lloyd will also use other solutions to meet the International Maritime Organization's 2020 Sulphur Cap that enters into force on 1 January. The company will test and evaluate the use of scrubbers to clean exhaust gases on initially ten of its 235 ships. Estimated costs range between seven and ten million US dollars per vessel. The large majority of Hapag-Lloyd’s vessels with an average age of eight years will, however, shift to low-sulphur fuel oil in the coming months.

Picture: The Sajir in the Port of Rotterdam.

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