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Rotterdam LNG bunkering demand soars

Europe’s largest bunkering port is reaping the rewards of exponential growth in LNG fuelling

Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, has more than trebled LNG bunkering volumes in the first half of the year, defying the coronavirus-induced economic slowdown that has hit its main cargo activities.

Demand for cleaner marine fuels has risen sharply since the start of the year, when International Maritime Organization rules came into force restricting its sulphur content to 0.5pc.

LNG bunkering volumes at Rotterdam rose to 93,713m³ in the first half of 2020, up from 26,146m³ moved over the same period last year, port data shows. This year’s six-month volumes are already 30pc above sales for 2019 as a whole.

By comparison, total cargo throughput—the port’s bread-and-butter business—fell by 9.1pc, to 218.9mn t, over the first half of the year.

“There are more and more vessels sailing on LNG. This partly explains the growth,” says Ronald Backers, business intelligence adviser on liquid bulk cargo flows for the port. Additionally, Rotterdam completed the world’s largest LNG bunkering operation in March when Dutch LNG supplier Titan LNG fuelled contractor Heerema’s gigantic Sleipnir crane vessel. This one-off bunkering of 3,300t had a significant impact on the port’s H1 bunkering volumes, ­Backers says.

“There are more and more vessels sailing on LNG” Backers, Port of Rotterdam

The port is expecting the segment to continue to grow as more shipping companies launch gas-fuelled vessels. “Further growth this and next year will come mainly from the… container ships [of French shipping company CMA CGM],” Backers says.

CMA CGM will this year start using its first LNG-fuelled ultra-large container ships. The company has a ten-year bunkering supply agreement with Total for a yearly provision of 300,000t of LNG. Total will this year start operating a leased 18,600m³ LNG bunkering barge to serve the northern European market. The vessel will sail to Rotterdam, the company says. With CMA CGM planning to bring a total of nine LNG-fuelled container ships into operation over the coming years and its existing supply deal with Total, Rotterdam can count on a continued upward trend in LNG bunkering demand.

Titan builds the mothership

Most of the LNG bunkering at the port is carried out by Shell’s 3,000m³ LNG London and Titan LNG’s FlexFueler001, which has capacity of 1,480m³. “Even in these challenging times we continue to see our volumes grow,” a Shell spokesman says.

Titan LNG business development manager Jippe van Eijnatten concedes that growth slowed down in the second quarter due to the coronavirus crisis, with April the worst month, but says business has since recovered. The company launched the FlexFueler001 in Rotterdam in June 2019 and increased bunkering volumes at the port to 8,000t over the first half of this year.

With demand expected to continue rising, Titan LNG is expanding its services. It plans to build a larger ‘mothership’ LNG bunkering barge that will supply its smaller FlexFueler vessels in the Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp area. In July, the company won an €11mn ($13mn) grant from the European Commission’s Connecting Europe Facility to carry out the project along with the construction of two other bunkering barges to be used in the Belgian port of Zeebrugge and the port of Lubeck in Germany.

Another Rotterdam-based company investing in LNG bunkering is storage firm Vopak. Since the start of August, it has been offering simultaneous LNG bunkering at its oil terminal to customers while loading or unloading oil products. The company says it launched the service following requests from customers and that it expects “first usage within a few weeks”.

With more shippers wanting to make the switch to low-sulphur emission vessels, there are globally 41 LNG-fuelled crude oil tankers on order, the largest LNG propulsion order book of any type of vessel, according to consultancy DNV GL. This is closely followed by 38 LNG-fuelled container ships and 30 cruise ships, its data shows.

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