Big Ship Slow Steaming: How Prevalent is It?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Much has been heard, said and read regarding the advent of Slow Steaming in the global maritime industry. But in reality, how prevalent is the practice? MAN PrimeServ set out recently to find some answers.

Being a market leader with the lion’s share of big ship main propulsion installations has its benefits, particularly when seeking answers on operational trends from the world’s leading vessel owners and operators. The engines in the world fleet today were built to run constantly at full load, which is typically not the optimal operational pattern today (or for that matter, projected to be the ideal pattern for several years if not longer).
As the issue of Slow Steaming has entered and remained in the maritime industry discussion and practice in the last four years, MAN Diesel & Turbo embarked on an industry survey of more than 200 representatives of the global and bulk shipping industry late last year to identify its frequency, and more importantly to identify the technical trends and needs going forward.

The Study
In late 2011, MAN Diesel & Turbo conducted a web survey among more than 200 representatives of the global container and bulk shipping industry, and it found that 149 – or nearly 75% –  had implemented slow steaming. According to the company, it wanted to investigate the approach of container lines, bulk and tanker operators to slow steaming, the retrofit, derating and upgrade measures taken to maximize the return on slow steaming. In broad overview, the study found:
1.     38 respondents had already implemented one or more engine retrofit solutions such as slide fuel valves, turbocharger cut-out, engine derating or propeller upgrade.
2.     111 who had either not implemented any of the above, but had implemented other solutions such as hull cleaning.

In overview, the study found that the overwhelming reason for adopting slow steaming was the promise of fuel savings (cited by 94.7% of those adopting the method), and it found that while the engine retrofit crowd was the minority, it was they that had a firmer grasp of the issues and potential savings that slow steaming delivers. The survey revealed that engine retrofit, de-rating and propeller upgrade measures delivered fuel savings either as expected or higher than expected. While fuel savings was the primary driver, the survey found that better utilization of existing fleet capacity also played a significant role in the decision to adopt slow steaming.
While slow steaming in practice varied widely across the containership, bulk and tanker fleets (for example, in the containership sector 15.4% said they employed slow steaming across more than 50% of their fleet, while the bulk and tanker sector saw more than 26% of respondents employing sow steaming in more than 50% of their fleet.
Most typically, the survey found, operators in the container sector reported engine loads between 30 to 50% more than 56% of the time, and Bulk & Tanker operators stayed in the 30 to 50% range more than 82.2% of the time, indicating that super slow steaming is not a priority. In total, the majority of respondents utilized a mix of slow and normal speeds, with only 21.5% reporting that they slow steamed “All of the Time,” while the majority, 60.4%, reported slow steaming “Some of the time.” (and, FYI, 6% responded “Never”).
While much talk in the industry today revolves around the reduction of emissions from ships, it clearly was a secondary concern to fuel consumption and costs, though a reduction in fuel consumption is automatically equated with a drop in emission of CO2.

Technical Solutions
While the value of investing in one technical solution or another is highly dependent on the shipowner, the type of vessel, the size of the fleet and the routes traversed, among other factors, the MAN survey found that three-quarters of respondents found that they had achieved fuel savings as expected by implementing slide fuel valve and/or turbocharger cut-out solutions. Only 16.2% achieved lower than expected savings
The gains were more pronounced when it comes to engine derating and/or propeller upgrades, with 87.5% reporting expected fuel savings and none reporting “less than expected.”
When considering any solution, or slow steaming itself, it is important to consider that the overall effect of slow steaming on maritime operations – a practice which can add four or five days to a typical Asia to Europe journey, has had significantly impacted shipping rates, too. In fact, of the respondents that have adopted slow steaming, 21.6% said that the practice has impacted shipping rates “significantly”; while another 34.2% said it had impacted rates “to some extent,” and 21.6% said “none at all.”

(Excerpted in part from the “Slow Steaming Practices in Global Shipping Industry,” a report issued by MAN PrimServ based on an industry survey of late 2011.)

(As published in the July 2012 edition of Maritime  Reporter & Engineering News -

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