Gas on a low burner
After the best part of a decade as being touted as the fuel of the future for the shipping industry, LNG is still to make the breakthrough that it will need if it is ever to be anything more than a niche fuel. Recently a series of four Aframax tankers ordered by Sovcomflot and to be fitted with Wärtsilä dual fuel engines were celebrated as taking the LNG powered fleet of existing and on-order vessels through the 200 mark. According to reports, the current fleet comprises 103 operational vessels with a further 97 on order. The vast majority of LNG-fuelled ships are Northern European ferries and offshore vessels with Norway having the lion’s share of both. Norwegian ferry operators may be satisfied with their choice of fuel but the same is not true of offshore ship operators who feel that having invested in such ships they cannot obtain the premium charter rates that they need to recover costs. Aside from ferries and offshore vessels, there are LNG-fuelled ships in most segments but the numbers are so few and not really showing any accelerating trend. In fact in the container ship sector new orders are falling as some contracts are put on hold. LNG may yet prove popular as meeting the requirements of the 2020 global cap but the small number of vessels currently able to take advantage of the fuel is well below what might have been expected and although it may well double over the next year or so, 200 to 300 ships is hardly the revolution that was expected. The small success of the fuel is perhaps even more limited when the fact that most ships are not necessarily running on LNG for most of the time but continuing to burn oil in their dual fuel engines. It is hard to see where the investment in infrastructure will come from if the grants and subsidies from the EU that have been behind most initiatives every dry up as some believe they might.