Not everyone on board yet to clean up shipping

Ships will have to abandon cheap and dirty bunker fuel once sulphur limits are reduced to 1 per cent in 2020

Emissions from ships and boats amountto a billion tonnes or 3 per cent of globalgreenhouse gas emissions – twice that of the international aviation industry

Emissions from ships and boats amountto a billion tonnes or 3 per cent of globalgreenhouse gas emissions – twice that of the international aviation industry

 

Shipping is one of the silent global polluters. Emissions from ships and boats amount to a billion tonnes or 3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions – twice that of the international aviation industry.

The bunker fuel now used to power the world’s largest ships is dirty, cheap and, crucially, emits high levels of deadly sulphur-oxides that damage residents’ health in cities from Istanbul to Beijing to Rotterdam.

As of next January, ships traversing the English Channel as well as the Baltic and North Seas will be restricted by a sulphur emissions limit of 0.1 per cent – currently the limit stands at 1 per cent.

Globally, ships will have to abandon bunker fuel once sulphur limits are introduced to 0.5 per cent in 2020 or 2025, according to the International Maritime Organisation. *

To counter this a small Turkish shipbuilding company based outside Istanbul is building liquefied natural gas-powered (LNG) vessels which emit negligible levels of CO2 and sulphur-oxide. Sanmar Shipbuilders has been constructing LNG-powered tug boats for clients in Norway, with the M/T Borgøy, a 35-metre tug boat, launched by Buksèr og Berging, a Norwegian marine services company, in January. A second tug boat is under construction and more are in the pipeline.

Roscoff-Cork line

Others are beginning to see LNG’s advantages. Brittany Ferries has commissioned the world’s largest dual-powered passenger ferry at a cost of €270 million which is set to enter service on its Roscoff-Cork line by the end of next year.

Last month Europe’s first LNG-powered inland waterway vessel was inaugurated, with a “series” of retrofitted vessels planned.

“Economically LNG is much cheaper than heavy fuel oil (HFO). As the shipping industry moves to lower sulphur marine diesel oil and marine gas oil, the cost advantage of LNG would be further augmented,” said Haifeng Wang of the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

The port of Antwerp, one of Europe’s busiest, is currently installing LNG bunkering facilities. Sweden’s port of Gothenburg will offer discounts of up to 30 per cent for LNG-powered vessels docking there from next year. With 90 per cent of global trade conducted on ships and liquefied natural gas increasingly available in the US and elsewhere, global prices are expected to fall.

But not everyone is buying in just yet.

Maersk Line, the world’s biggest shipping company, said it was not looking at LNG as a potential fuel at the moment, having recently invested heavily in bigger, slower-moving ships that help offset transportation costs.

Irish Ferries, which operates six vessels between Ireland, Britain, France and in New Zealand, said it had no plans to convert its fleet to LNG fuel, having one of the world’s “most modern ferry fleets” already in operation.

Stena Line, the other major passenger and shipping carrier between Ireland and Britain, is planning to use methanol fuel to meet the 2015 emissions requirements as though it’s more expensive than LNG, the associated infrastructure costs on-board and to transport are less.

According to Sanmar, LNG-fuelled tug boats cost double the price of conventional diesel-powered engines to build and fit.

Bunkering

“We get inquiries and know that that they [prospective buyers] are considering it,” said Pinar Korkmaz, Sanmar’s marketing director in Istanbul. “But an LNG system is expensive and bunkering is still not easy and efficient yet.”

As the M/T Borgøy made its maiden voyage from Istanbul to Oslo it faced suspicion, say its manufacturers, with port authorities along the Mediterranean coast refusing to refuel the boat citing safety concerns.

Only around 50 LNG-powered vessels are currently in use, representing a minuscule fraction of the global fleet.

Meeting the 2015 sulphur target could cost 2,000 jobs in the UK alone where the shipping industry has vehemently opposed the sulphur restrictions.

A 2011 European Commission white paper on emissions and the shipping sector employs non-committal terms and language such as “should” and “if feasible”, balking from taking a decisive lead in championing cleaner fuel alternatives such as LNG.

Still, with US-based fracking driving down prices there, the fallout could see LNG prices fall globally, particularly if fracking takes off in other countries which experts say is already happening.

Governments are also moving to allay safety concerns around the transportation and distribution of LNG fuel at ports.

“Countries in the EU and US are working on safety rules and guidelines governing LNG bunkering in the ports. For example, the American Bureau of Shipping rolled out its LNG bunkering guideline recently,” said Wang of the ICCT.

With LNG expected to make up 11 per cent of global marine fuel by 2030, and smaller vessels in particular responsible for the uptake, the sight of smoke-filled ports and rivers is on the way out.

* This article was amended to correct an incorrect figure on Monday, July 21st, 2014.

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