The gas bubble bursts

The gas bubble bursts

17 Oct 2014  Motorship

It came as something of a shock, especially in the run-up to the Motorship Gas Fuelled Ships conference (which takes place in Stavanger, Norway, on 25-27 November) that one major LNG fuelled ship project had been put on hold.

Brittany Ferries, which had ordered a new large gas-fuelled ro-pax ship and announced plans to convert the newer vessels in its fleet to run on LNG, announced that it would be going for the HFO and exhaust gas scrubber instead. The reason given was that the figures just did not add up, and the company felt the investment could not be justified at this stage.

This seems to go against the general industry feeling that in the medium to long term the LNG option should prove the most economical, as well as the cleanest. However, it seems that Brittany Ferries had set certain preconditions for its LNG project. Top of the list was that the company was relying on a temporary exemption being granted from the 0.1% fuel sulphur limit to be introduced in ECAs on 1 January next, under MARPOL Annex VI. Obviously, such an exemption has not proved possible.

On the face of things, it may seem naïve of the company to think that it could go against IMO rules. But the company tells us that it had been lobbying governments for such an exemption for some time. And it must have thought there was a good chance of exceptions being made in the case of operators which could demonstrate a commitment to meeting, and beating, future emissions targets. And don’t let’s forget that IMO’s track record is littered with delays and back-tracking (although it now seems to be a somewhat different animal).

So, Brittany Ferries was faced with what it says is a double penalty – first, the considerable investment in ‘greening’ its fleet, and second, the cost of switching to low-sulphur fuels, which it says is considerable. All of its England-France routes are within the ECA, as is a fair proportion of its services to Spain and Ireland, so diesel fuel is the only option until scrubbers can be fitted allowing the ships to revert to HFO. Chairman Jean Marc Roué said: “The economic viability of our LNG programme is in jeopardy. It is my duty to protect the company and its staff at a time when the European ferry industry is confronting numerous challenges.”