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Entering a new age of shipping

Oct 24, 2013 03:19 PM
A 303-foot PSV at Bay Shipbuilding in Wisconsin.

Brian Gauvin photo

A 303-foot PSV at Bay Shipbuilding in Wisconsin.

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Four contracts signed by General Dynamics Nassco over the last 10 months have changed the future of shipbuilding in the United States by bringing liquefied natural gas propulsion into the mainstream.

First, TOTE Inc. ordered two 3,100-TEU containerships for the Puerto Rico trade that when completed are expected to be the largest ships in the world powered primarily by LNG. TOTE followed that with a design contract to convert its two Orca-class diesel-electric trailerships to LNG.

American Petroleum Tankers then ordered four 50,000-dwt Jones Act product carriers from Nassco to be delivered ready for LNG conversion. In September, Seabulk Tankers contracted for two more vessels of the same design.

Brian Gauvin photos

A ferry superstructure at Nichols Brothers in Washington.

A ConRo from VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, Miss.

LNG is plentiful in North America and has cost and environmental advantages over diesel, particularly with a 2020 deadline for vessel emission controls imposed by the International Maritime Organization. The fuel is attractive to many vessel operators, especially ferry services, whose fixed routes make bunkering easy.

Nassco’s aren’t the first U.S. orders for LNG vessels; two years ago, Harvey Gulf International Marine asked TY Offshore in Gulfport, Miss., to build two 302-foot, dual-fuel offshore supply vessels. Nor is this the first interest from Jones Act tanker operators; American Phoenix, a tanker we profiled last year, was surveyed during construction for possible LNG conversion.

But Anthony Chiarello, TOTE’s president and CEO, was in no doubt about the significance of the containerships contract. “These vessels mark a new age of shipping,” he said.

There has been a flurry of other announcements about LNG. Harvey Gulf has extended its TY Offshore order from two vessels to six. Interlake Steamship announced an agreement with Shell that would allow it to convert its lakers to LNG as their main propulsion fuel. In Canada, Société des traversiers du Québec now has three dual-fuel ferries under construction, one in Italy and two in its home province.

The rise of LNG has coincided with strong markets in two other segments of the shipbuilding industry: tankers and vessels for the offshore oil and gas market. “I think it’s a very positive moment for commercial shipbuilding in the United States,” said Matt Paxton, president of the Shipbuilders Council of America, which now represents 85 shipyard facilities and 95 partner companies.

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