With a half head of steam

A senior official at CMA CGM, in an address given last December in Malaysia, predicted that most shipping lines would start steaming at economic speeds to minimize bunker fuel consumption. He estimated that sailing at reduced speeds could cut fuel bills by as much as 40%, and he urged higher port productivity in order to allow vessels sailing at slower speeds to make up for lost time.

A report from Maersk Line a little while later also revealed plans to reduce sailing speeds in order to “improve reliability and save fuel”. According to the company, port congestion was having an “escalating impact” on its ability to provide reliable services, but to compensate for the delays, the report stated, the addition of four vessels would “enable us to incorporate additional buffer time in our schedules”.

[So there you have it. In order to cut fuel consumption, Maersk simply adds four more vessels to their routes. Small wonder that there’s such a rapid turnover of top officials at this firm.]

Another shipping line joined the chorus when the President of NYK Group stated that, “A 10% slowdown of voyage speed will produce a more than 25% saving of fuel oil”, and he added that any reduction in fuel consumption would also bring an environmental benefit by reducing CO2 emissions. “I would like to emphasize,” the president said, “that the systems so far maintained no longer suffice to enable container ships consuming massive quantities of fuel to continue to operate at a profit. If a single container ship daily consumes 200 metric tons of fuel costing $ 500 per metric ton, its fuel cost will reach as high as $ 100,000 in just a day.”

[Of course, he could always add four more ships in order to cut down on fuel consumption, like they do at Maersk Line.]

Further support for slower sailing came from the chairman of Shipping Emissions Abatement and Trading (SEAaT), a lobbying group. He urged an average speed reduction by the world fleet of 10%, saying it would cut harmful emissions by 20%. Then going from the ridiculous to the sublime, he suggested that, “The shipping companies taking high development costs and strong efforts for creating environmentally friendly transportation should get environmental compensation paid by the ‘speed club boys’. A trading system where the polluter pays heavy compensation to the low-emission alternatives will test the markets for speedy transportation and encourage environmentally friendly solutions,” he added. [Another PierPass-like Initiative, maybe?]

But the General Manager of Singapore’s Neom Maritime strongly disagreed with the money-saving strategies cited above when he bluntly revealed the other point of this costly and puzzling dilemma.

Said he: “Coming into a congested port later than you would at full speed means that you are much farther back in the queue, so in business terms, slow steaming is not viable. In business terms, the main aim is to get the cargo from point A to point B in the fastest time possible, and by doing that you will earn maximum profits.”