MSC has agreed a long-term charter deal with shipowner Eastern Pacific Shipping for eleven 15,300 teu LNG dual-fuelled newbuild vessels.

The carrier today confirmed the order to The Loadstar, and a spokesperson added that it was “committed to investing in a sustainable future and while the pathway for decarbonising shipping is still unclear, with no new fuels available globally at scale to deploy across our fleet of 570 ships, this charter should help us to improve CO2 emissions performance, provide other valuable learnings and keep our options open”.

Liquified natural gas (LNG) reduces emissions, compared with traditional marine oil, and is seen by an increasing number of liner operators as a transition fuel to help the maritime industry reach the IMO’s decarbonisation targets of net-zero GHG emissions for shipping by 2050.

Hapag-Lloyd recently joined LNG ‘pioneer’ carrier CMA CGM in ordering six 23,000 teu LNG dual-fuelled ships, and other carriers are said to be looking at similar orders.

It said it saw LNG as the “most environmentally friendly, readily available fuel for shipping today”.

Israeli carrier Zim has also joined the pro-LNG party, recently agreeing 12-year charters with non-operating containership owner Seaspan for ten 15,000 teu LNG-fuelled vessels for delivery in the first half of 2023.

And CMA CGM, of course, recently doubled-down on its LNG strategy with a $1bn-plus order for six 15,000 teu and six 13,000 teu dual-fuelled vessels.

According to London-based shipbroker Gibson, there are more than 130 LNG-powered vessels under construction, including more than 40 containerships. MSC has ordered three LNG-powered cruise ships for delivery next year.

However, in contrast to its peers, Maersk has declined to go down the ‘mid-term’ LNG route and, as a consequence, has a virtually empty orderbook.

Instead it is investing millions of dollars into research and development and is on track for a 2023 launch of a newbuild dual-fuelled 2,000 teu feeder vessel equipped to run on methanol and LSFO (low-sulphur fuel oil).

During Maersk’s Capital Markets Day event in Copenhagen today, Henriette Hallberg Thygesen, chief executive of fleet & strategic brands, confirmed that as part of the group’s Green Fleet renewal programme, all future newbuilds will be net-zero enabled and dual-fuel capable.

“Our current position on LNG is that the fuel can have adverse effects on the climate,” said Ms Hallberg Thygesen, “our focus is on future fuels that have the potential to be net-zero.”

“We do not believe there is time for transition fuels in our ambition to create meaningful impact for our customers and society. We try to concentrate on what we want to do and we do not see LNG as an option. We prefer to concentrate on developing a proper green fuel.”

And Ms Hallberg Thygesen said she was confident Maersk’s customers would be prepared to pay a premium for shipment on a green-fuelled vessel, given that 90 of the carrier’s 200 largest customers had zero-carbon targets.

As MSC clearly regards LNG as the ‘mid-term fuel option’, it will be interesting to see how its strategy will impact the relationship with its vessel-sharing alliance partner.

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