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Maersk slow steaming a success

Copenhagen: Describing the dramatic speed reductions as "the most innovative development in container shipping in recent history", Maersk VP Fleet Management Soren Andersen says reducing engine loads has proved a great success."We reduced engine loads from about 40% while slow steaming to around 10% when ships are super-slow steaming," he explains, enabling further speed cuts down to 12-14 knots.

The company started its experiments on board its own ships during 2008. It established procedures for monitoring the initiative internally and "we found it worked very well," says Andersen. The company's engineers found that turbochargers needed to be blasted out regularly but that main engines could be operated safely and effectively at just 10% load.

Following initial tests on its own ships, Maersk took its findings to main engine manufacturers including MAN and Sulzer. "The engine manufacturers agreed with us," Andersen explains, "and so we talked to the insurers who also said it was ok." As a result, there are now no warranty issues. "Then, we said ok, we've got half the fleet; the other half is chartered and we need to engage with owners,"

Andersen explains. Although, as charterer, Maersk foots the bill for bunkers, benefits for owners include savings on luboil and reduced emissions. Meanwhile slowing ships right down represents an extra capacity constraint which benefits the global container business as a whole.

Container lines will be faced with difficult decisions, however, when the market picks up and it comes time to increase ships' speed again. Whether to raise speed again by a significant margin on one vessel string, for example, or continue at the same speed and add another vessel will be a challenging decision. [07/12/09]

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