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Why CMA CGM ordered 'game changing' 22,000 teu LNG-powered containerships

Last week Seatrade Maritime News sat down for a fireside chat with Nicolas Sartini, ceo of APL, part of the CMA CGM Group, about the game changing decision by the French container line to order nine LNG-fuelled, 22,000 teu capacity containerships. Below we publish some extracts from the conversation that took place at the Sea Asia LNG Forum in Singapore.

Q: What was the thinking behind CMA CGM to go for LNG powered vessels, than for example scrubbers or low sulphur?

A: It has been quite a long process, in fact the first discussions took place dating back to 2010, so it’s not exactly a new discussion. Then of course the sulphur global cap decision which takes place on 1 January 2020 and as a shipping company we at CMA CGM have been looking for various options, and these options are three-fold. One is using 0.5% low sulphur fuel which it is available but is considerably more expensive than heavy fuel oil. Two is scrubbers. Scrubbers are a relatively new technology as well, it has its merits and also its inconvenience. Then third is you can burn LNG.

Clearly it’s a new regulation and new environment where CMA CGM for newbuildings and we decided to go for what is considered to be the new technology which is LNG fuelled engines.

Q: How important is it for CMA CGM as company to be seen to taking a leadership position in terms of shipping, the environment and climate change?

The decision was very much an environmental and economic one. Always at CMA CGM at the forefront of environmental protection. We also consider that it’s a game changer and as a company we would be the first one to move on this scale.

Q: One of the issues for LNG power on containerships is the loss of cargo space due to the size of the fuel tanks compared to heavy fuel oil– how has CMA CGM been able to deal with this?

Technical experts have worked on this and minimised the loss of space so on a 22,000 teu vessel we are looking at around 200 teu reduction so its 1% in capacity. Clearly every teu counts but 1% of capacity was not really a major factor in the decision.

Q: CMA CGM is the first company to order LNG fuelled ultra-large containerships how does the company balance game changing first user advantage against the potential pitfalls of being the first to use a new system?

The technology already exists and there around 100 ships that are using it and probably another 100 that are being built as we speak. So the technology is existing and proven but not yet for 22,000 teu vessels - nine of them and coming pretty soon with the first one delivered in January 2020. In terms of the company and the project it is interesting to be the first mover. But there is the availability of the product [LNG], the availability of the infrastructure in ports, so the message we are trying to pass today is now its going to be large scale…. it’s very important that now the infrastructure is ready – we need it in Singapore, we need it in Rotterdam, in China and the US.

Q: In terms of bunkering is the company looking to take fuel in a single or multiple locations and what lay behind this decision?

A: To ensure security of supply we have a long term contract with Total for part of requirements so we will do the majority of our bunkering in Europe. These ships will initially be deployed initially on the Asia – Europe trade so the majority of the bunkering will be done in Rotterdam, of course we’ll also need to bunkering in different ports. We need the product and the infrastructure to be available everywhere.

Read more: Total signs agreement to fuel CMA CGM's 22,000 teu LNG-powered containerships

Q: Will CMA CGM order more LNG powered vessels of different sizes in the future?

A: We at CMA CGM are convinced we are making the right move investing in the environment, LNG has no sulphur, there is no PM [particulate matter], there is an 85% reduction in NOx, it goes in the right direction to have more environmentally friendly shipping. We think in the future we will continue in the same strategy order LNG powered ships.

The Sea Asia LNG Forum was held during Singapore Maritime Week. Read all the news from Singapore Maritime Week on our dedicated Live From Singapore Maritime Week 2018 page

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