Image: Shell logo - editorial image for illustration purpose.

LNG distribution built on a firm foundation

Containerships will launch Europe’s first containership fleet to run on liquefied natural gas (LNG). Shell, which will deliver the LNG fuel and handle its bunkering onto container vessels, will be a partner in this pioneer project.

Lauran Wetemans, the general manager of Shell’s D-LNG operations, points out that this project is also unique from the fuel supplier’s perspective.

“When shipping operations are based on a new fuel, a secure fuel supply is essential, so we need to ensure that there are no weak links in the chain. For this reason, we have been working in extra close cooperation with Containerships and the port to build a new kind of LNG distribution channel.”


Image: Lauran Wetemans, the general manager of Shell’s D-LNG operations (courtesy of Shell)

The Port of Rotterdam, which will serve as a base for the new bunker vessel commissioned by Shell, will be the site of the ‘filling station’ for LNG carriers. Designed as an LNG fuel supply ship, the new state-of-the-art bunker vessel will be built before the first LNG container ship sets sail, so that Containerships vessels have a guaranteed fuel supply from the outset.

“To be built in a Korean shipyard, the LNG bunker vessel will be the first of its kind and serve a broad range of customers,” says Wetemans.

No weak links

In addition to the bunker vessel, the port infrastructure needs to be ready for action when the first LNG container vessel arrives. A key link in the supply chain is the LNG import terminal, the Gate Terminal, in the Port of Rotterdam; this terminal’s operations will be adapted to allow for LNG to be reloaded.

“Smaller ships need to access the terminal and load up with LNG to replenish the bunker vessel. Another key issue is the port regulations. They need to be amended to permit LNG bunkering, a requirement which has made cooperation – based on a shared vision with the Port of Rotterdam – essential to this project.”

To maximise efficiency, the idea is that container vessels will be bunkered while unloading their cargoes at the container terminal. This involves safety issues which have had to be factored into the project.

“Overall, this has meant handling a vast range of regulations, permits and analyses alongside other players involved in the project. For example, we’ve been meticulous in going through and checking off the environmental and safety issues. And because this is a completely new type of undertaking, we’ve created our own business model, plans and guidelines, which will continue to evolve as we get to grips with the practical issues. That’s what makes this transition to a new fuel so fascinating and challenging at the same time.”

“We want to show that LNG is not just environmentally friendly, but that it’s also a competitive fuel which is every bit as flexible to supply and use as conventional fuels. Of course, we aim to increase the use of LNG in European marine transport by creating conditions that foster its uptake.”

A cleaner alternative

Shell has over a hundred years of experience of more conventional fuels. The company has been selling LNG as a marine fuel for about a decade, which makes Lauran Wetemans well-versed in the properties and related advantages of LNG.

“We believe that LNG is a competitive, cleaner alternative that is set to enjoy growing popularity in marine transport. Because it meets the ecological requirements of the future, it’s a particularly tempting option for new vessels.”

Wetemans views the LNG distribution agreement between Shell and Containerships as a prime example of how the future of European shipping can be based on bold and committed collaboration.

“There’s a lot of talk about LNG in the logistics sector but the commitment and approach by Containerships makes it a genuinely pioneering project that will take the transition with Marine-LNG fuel to a new level.”