WHEN I hear talk of the development of natural gas as a ship fuel, I also hear the words ‘chicken and egg’, and at the same time feel like crying foul.
A lot of owners talk about the lack of a bunker supply chain for the provision of gas to their ships as a reason for not pursuing the technology, or at least the concept.
This really is a disingenuous red herring if ever there was one. Since when in the commercial world has something been developed and then been left sitting around waiting to be used?
Bunker suppliers, if anyone in the maritime world, are noted for their commercial nature, and I can guarantee that when the provision of liquefied natural gas fits into the mix of fuels they will provide it when the time arises.
There is the argument that there is no infrastructure. That will hardly be a problem. We use gas everywhere, and whether it is a case of supplying it to a port or terminal in liquid or compressed form it can be done. Suppliers have told me they can set up suitable marine bunker stations in a couple of months for LNG, though reliquefaction could take a bit longer. Most owners need a couple of years to make a decision to take a new technology on board. Ample time.
There is a tendency for the shipping industry to look for the silver spoon to help it make commercial changes.
The winners are always the ones that take a small risk, but meter that against the rewards. This is also why the dual fuel engine will probably be the engine of choice for the shipping industry as LNG matures. The engines may be less efficient than a pure gas engine, but they allow fuel versatility and give an easy emergency return to port capability when it is needed.
Recently Brittany Ferriessaid it was in talks with STX France to design a dual fuel ferry. Details are sketchy at the moment, and there is no indication that the French shipowner is likely to order such a ship at the moment to run between France and the UK.
The gossip is, though, that STX France is keen to win a new order and, following on from its twin yard in Turku, Finland, which is currently designing and about to build a gas-powered ferry for Viking Line, is keen to get its name into the books as a viable builder.
The STX France yards are, after all, noted for a number of LNG tankers in the past that run off the cargo boil-off.
There is also the smell of French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s environmental pledges in the air, which could well condense into environmental support for struggling yards, much in the same way STX Turku got a leg-up from the Finnish government. Is this where we should cry foul?