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By the end of next year, 20-25% of the global containership fleet will be fitted with scrubbers, enabling them to consume cheaper heavy fuel oil (HFO) blends, predicts Alphaliner.

Moreover, it expects 2M alliance partners Maersk and MSC to have their combined 62-strong 18,000-23,000 teu ULCV fleet to be equipped with scrubbers by 2021.

After 1 January, it will be illegal for ships to bunker fuel with a sulphur content above 0.5%, unless they are fitted with exhaust gas cleaning ‘scrubber’ systems.

The consultant said that, at 15 October, the number of containerships already fitted with scrubbers was 142, “with a long line being retrofitted or waiting to enter yards”.

By the time the IMO 2020 low-sulphur regulations enter force, in less than two and a half months, the number is expected to have reached 260, with a total capacity of 2.3m teu, representing around 10% of the total cellular fleet.

Alphaliner said it expected the 2M to have more than 35 scrubber-fitted ULCVs available to deploy by 1 January, the Ocean Alliance to have 20 available, followed by THE Alliance, with “the smallest number”.

It said more scrubber-fitted vessels would be phased into the alliance networks next year, with Maersk and MSC expected to operate a combined fleet of over 350  equipped with scrubbers by 2021.

Within the Ocean Alliance, Evergreen is expected to have 149 units of its combined fleet, plus the 269 vessels in its orderbook, fitted with scrubbers, with CMA CGM having equipped 100 ships and Cosco/OOCL, 40.

Currently, the price of Rotterdam-sourced IFO 380 HFO has fallen to around $260 per tonne, with quotes for the new blends of IMO 2020-compliant low-sulphur fuel (LSF) at just over $500 per tonne.

Were this ‘spread’ to continue, or even widen, when ships not fitted with scrubbers replenish tanks with LSF in December, Alphaliner suggests the 2M partners would have the option to operate their six Asia-North Europe strings at higher speeds, “giving them a competitive edge over their rivals”.

However, this would seem an unlikely scenario, given the current pressure to introduce further slow-steaming measures to reduce emissions. Indeed, a Maersk source told The Loadstar today he could not see increased speeds happening “anytime soon”.

“And why would we waste our cost advantage by cutting transits when we know that the majority of customers will not pay more?” he added.

Meanwhile, as carriers plough millions of dollars into research and development to find alternative fuels to power the containerships of tomorrow, the debate has continued on the viability of LNG, which has been championed by CMA CGM with 20 LNG-powered vessels on order.

In terms of retro-fitting, LNG is clearly not an option, even for the 17 so-called LNG-ready ULCVs Hapag-Lloyd inherited from its merger with UASC. Chief executive Rolf Habben Jansen told The Loadstar a “ballpark figure” for such a retrofit of one vessel was $25m.

He said only the 15,000 teu Sajir would be converted to run on LNG, as a trial, and he did not expect this to involve any other ex-UASC vessels.

But for newbuilds, a study this year, commissioned by the not-for-profit industry foundation SEA/LNG, claimed LNG was the “most environmentally friendly, readily available fuel for shipping today – and in the foreseeable future”.

But during the inaugural Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers/Maritime UK Maritime Leadership conference at the IMO London HQ yesterday, guest speaker Dr Tristan Smith, associate professor in energy and transport at University College London, argued that LNG was, in fact, “a pretty disastrous long-term option for shipping”.

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