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2019 April 12

Sovcomflot: clean work

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on encouraging shipping companies to use environmentally friendly fuel. In Russia, a pioneer in this area is Sovcomflot which has a series of LNG powered tankers being built with several ships already in operation. They will be followed by construction of required infrastructure in Russia with relevant projects under development.

Gas and digits

Russian President Vladimir Putin used to emphasize the necessity of using liquefied natural gas by ships in the Arctic regions. This time, at the 5th International Arctic Forum ‘The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue’ held in Saint-Petersburg, he said that sustainable fuel should be aimed for throughout the entire national fleet , especially in the Arctic.

“What is vitally important in my opinion, and here I agree with Sauli (President of Finland Sauli Niinistö-Ed.), is the conversion of ships to more environmentally friendly types of fuel. First of all, I mean gas fuel, especially for ships operating in northern and Arctic seas. That is of utmost importance and that is absolutely obvious. Shipbuilding and shipping companies should be encouraged towards using such types of transport and fuel”, said the President.

LNG shipping and infrastructure is being actively developed and provided with state support in Europe. From 1 January 2015, sulfur content in any ship fuel used to power vessels operating in the Baltic and the North Seas should not exceed 0.1% according to IMO restrictions. IMO’s global 0.5% sulphur cap coming into effect on 1 January 2020. The current limit is 3.5% with 0.1% limit in emission control areas including the Baltic Sea effective from 1 January 2015.

From 1 January 2020, IMO’s global 0.5% sulphur cap (excluding emission control areas with even tougher limits) will not let using conventional marine fuel (heavy fuel oil). Moreover, NOx and CO2 emission restrictions are also getting tougher.

With its enormous gas resources, Russia successfully implements projects on gas liquefaction. However, there is no LNG bunkering infrastructure in Russia. The bunkering market players attribute the delay in its development to absence of stable demand while shipping companies, in their turn, are slow to have gas fueled ships built amid absence of information.

That vicious circle has been curbed by Sovcomflot, a pioneer in using LNG in Russia.

In April 2017, Shell and Sovcomflot signed an agreement to provide the LNG fuel for the new generation tankers. In February 2018, SCF Group signed time-charter agreements with Shell for two dual-fuelled 114,000 DWT Aframax tankers. The first of them, the Gagarin Prospect named after the first Russian cosmonaut was chartered in July 2018. The Samuel Prospect, named in a salute to the founder of Shell Transport & Trading Co, Sir Marcus Samuel, is scheduled for delivery into Shell time charter in the second quarter of 2019.

The experience of technical and commercial operation of ‘green’ tankers accumulated by Sovcomflot is also in demand among Russian shipbuilders. In September 2018, Sovcomflot signed a set of agreements with Rosneft placing orders with Zvezda for a series of two next generation large-capacity Aframax tankers. A subsequent 20-year time-charter for them was agreed with Rosneft. In April 2019, Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex and Sovkomflot signed a contract to make a pilot gas carrier vessel for the Arctic LNG 2 project.

According to Sovcomflot, tankers running on gas fuel ensure 90-pct reduction of SOx emissions 80-pct cut in NOx emissions and 15-pct lower CO2 emissions as compared with ships powered by conventional heavy fuel. The vessels’ main engines, auxiliaries, and boilers will be dual fuel, capable of using LNG, and the vessels will also be fitted with Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) technology to comply with MARPOL Tier III regulations governing NOx emissions when in gasoil fuel mode.

As of today, five ‘green’ Aframax tankers have been built for Sovcomflot: Gagarin Prospect, Lomonosov Prospect, Mendeleev Prospect, Korolev Prospect, Vernadsky Prospect. The Samuel Prospect is under construction as well as two more tankers having been named yet but already ordered to Zvezda shipyard in the Primorsky Territory.

As for the Arctic operation, on 30 October 2018 the Lomonosov Prospect successfully completed a commercial voyage along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) to deliver a cargo of petroleum products from the Republic of Korea to Northern Europe.

The high-latitude voyage from Cape Dezhnev at Chukotka to Cape Zhelaniya of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago took the Arc4 vessel 7.8 days to complete, during which the tanker covered a distance of 2194 nautical miles. During the voyage, the crew successfully tested the operation of the ship engines and controls of the fuel systems using LNG, as well as the operation of navigation equipment and machinery in ice conditions and sub-zero temperatures.

The successful voyage confirmed the vessel’s high manoeuvrability and icebreaking capabilities, as well as being a highly safe, environmentally friendly and efficient vessel.

The tanker travelled almost the entire NSR without any icebreaker escort, having covered some 950 nautical miles in ice conditions. She was escorted by Atomflot's nuclear-powered icebreaker Taimyr only when traversing the most navigationally and hydrographically challenging area of the Ayon ice massif in the East Siberian Sea.

Notably, those tankers have their ‘digital counterparts’ accessible for onshore monitoring centers. That provides for remote control of all onboard processes and offers opportunities for optimization of routes and bunkering schedule thereby contributing to reduction of operation costs.

One of the recent tankers in the series, the Mendeleev Prospect, delivered in October 2018, has recently called the port of Primorsk in the Leningrad Region where it was loaded and presented to the public. It is noteworthy that one of the world’s most sustainable ships has called Primorsk, one of the most environmentally friendly ports.

As Igor Tonkovidov, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating / Chief Technical Officer of Sovcomflot, told during the presentation, LNG fuel has been selected in pursuance of the company’s conscious strategy focused on development of clean shipping culture.

Besides, LNG lets reduce operation costs due to lower consumption of fuel as compared with oil products (by about 20%), port dues discounts offered to environmentally friendly ships (applicable in Russian ports of Primorsk and Ust-Luga), absence of oil residues and sludge that are normal when using heavy fuel oil. Meanwhile, LNG price is not higher than that of diesel fuel. On the other hand, capital costs are higher for LNG-powered ships than for ships running on conventional fuel. Therefore, state support is needed for the companies building a sustainable fleet.

As for bunkering infrastructure, those tankers are fueled with LNG in the port of Rotterdam and at offshore bunkering facility of Gothenburg. However the company expects Gazpromneft Marine Bunker to put a dedicated LNG bunkering tanker in operation on the Baltic Sea by 2021. That will let be fueled in Russia. An agreement thereof is to be signed during the Saint-Petersburg International Economic Forum, SPIEF 2019.

Besides, three product carriers being built for NOVATEK are to be bunkered with LNG from an onshore terminal which has started functioning in Vysotsk (Leningrad Region).

According to Igor Tonkovidov, special attention should be paid to the development of LNG bunkering infrastructure on the state level. “The state role in this process is very high since the stakeholders should get a clear signal from the state about its approval and support … otherwise, individual players will run risks”, said Igor Tonkovidov.

One of the challenges of LNG ships operation in Russia is the absence of certified coursed to train LNG equipment operators. Actually, Sovcomflot offers its own course involving a Saint-Petersburg based simulator but specialists are then to be sent to Rotterdam to obtain certificates. While the Sovcomflot course is approved by Bureau Veritas, which means that they are certified for a foreign flag, there is no certification for the flag of Russia.

Training of specialists is one of the key aspects of companies’ competitiveness since dealing with LNG requires high qualification.

“Any operation and, particularly, its danger level depends directly on your professionalism, your ability or non-ability to perform”, emphasized Igor Tonkovidov when commenting on the risks of operating LNG-powered ships.

Not by LNG alone

Nonetheless, most of ships including the bulk of Sovcomflot’s fleet are powered by conventional fuel. At the same time, as it was mentioned above, 0.5% sulphur cap will come into effect worldwide in 2020. Many ship owners see the solution in installation of scrubbers allowing to use high-sulfur fuel. Yet, Sovcomflot is skeptical about them.

When speaking earlier at the Transport Week in Moscow, Sergey Frank said that “in five-six years we will face restrictions on GHG emissions (CO2) that will overthrow substandard solutions like scrubbers”.

Indeed, specialist asked by IAA PortNews say that introduction of scrubbers can lead to increased emissions of CO2 from ships. Scrubbers add the weight to ships and require tonnes of water every day for system washing purposes. That consumes energy and, consequently, results in consumption of more fuel, which in this case has a high content of sulfur.

Moreover, the world’s leading ports start introducing a ban on open-loop scrubbers. It has already been introduced by port authorities of Shanghai and Singapore, which are highly likely to be followed by ports in ECAs. Besides, the Port of Fujairah has banned the discharge of waste water containing sulphur.

For the above-mentioned reasons the global shipping industry does not consider scrubbers as an optimal solution. In most cases it is more reasonable to use low-sulfur fuel or LNG.

Igor Tonkovidov told in his turn that Sovcomflot does not forecast any deficit of low-sulfur fuel from 2020. He says the company is working hard to be prepared for new restrictions.

“Each vessel has a plan of fuel consumption and disposal and from 1 January 2020 our fleet will run on fuel with sulfur content not exceeding 0.5% without any technical problems”, said Executive Vice President of Sovcomflot.

When speaking about IFO 380, Sovcomflot representative noted that heating is needed for its storage which is likely to make no economic sense amid low demand.

“Disappearance of this fuel is highly questionable. I believe, it will not disappear in large ports but it will be possibly replaced by fuel with 0.5-pct sulfur content in smaller ports. Points either offering or not offering this fuel will turn out within 3-4 years”, assumes Igor Tonkovidov.

Thus, the era of sustainable shipping begins, in Russia as well. A role model to make the first step is essential here and it is Sovcomflot that take chances of innovative development.

When speaking at the ‘Arctic: Territory of Dialogue’ forum, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized that although the degree of anthropogenic impact on climate changes is an open question, Russia undertakes obligations on reduction of hazardous emissions.

Vitaly Chernov

Photo release on the Mendeleev Prospect presentation is available at IAA PortNews website >>>>