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Slow Steaming Practice

Web survey conducted by MAN PrimeServ reports on slow steaming practice in container and bulk shipping industry.

Posted on October 18, 2012

In late 2011, MAN PrimeServ, a division of MAN Diesel & Turbo, conducted a web survey among 149 representatives of the global container and bulk shipping industry. The purpose was to investigate the approach of container lines, as well as bulk and tanker operators, to slow steaming, retrofit, derating and upgrade measures taken to maximize the return on slow steaming, and evaluating of the results of these measures.

The results presented here are based on the answers and comments from the respondents who had already implemented slow steaming. These were split into two main groups: 38 respondents who had already implemented one or more engine retrofit solutions such as slide fuel valves, turbocharger cut-out, engine derating or propeller upgrade; and 111 who had not implemented any of the above, but had implemented other solutions such as hull cleaning.

The survey indicated a clear difference in attitude to slow steaming among those who had implemented engine retrofit solutions and those who had not.

The overwhelming reason for adopting slow steaming was the promise of fuel savings. The survey revealed that engine retrofit, derating and propeller upgrade measures delivered fuel savings as either expected or higher than expected.

In addition, the survey documented a positive reaction to slow steaming by a large majority of the global shipping community.

Besides fuel savings, the opportunity for better utilization of existing fleet capacity also played a significant role in the decision to adopt slow steaming.

MAN PrimeServ reported that almost one third of container fleet respondents (32.1%) stated that they were employing slow steaming in 50% or less of their fleet. 15.4% reported that slow steaming was employed in more than 50%. A significant number of respondents, however, were not able to answer this question specifically.

The corresponding figures for bulk vessels, tankers, etc. were significantly higher with 54.4% indicating that they were using slow steaming in 50% or less of their bulk/tanker vessels, and 26.2% stating that they were using slow steaming in more than half of these vessels.

A minority of respondents reported very low engine loads below 30%, while more stated engine loads between 20 and 40%. A significant majority reported engine loads between 30 and 50%, indicating that super slow steaming was not a priority. This was particularly evident in bulk/tank vessels. A majority of respondents combined slow steaming with full-load steaming, with only 6% employing slow steaming alone.

According to MAN PrimeServ, this reflects a broad need for flexibility, indicating major interest in the possibility of turbocharger cut-out or other modification solutions.

The obvious reason for introducing slow steaming is to save fuel, but capacity utilization and avoidance of idling costs were also important. A significant number considered avoiding idling costs to be an important driver, while schedule reliability was not high on the list. Obviously, schedule reliability is important to customers. The figures suggest, however, that they have faith in the planning capabilities of shipping lines and charterers to ensure that their cargos arrive on time. A small minority of customers seemed to be looking for a share of the financial savings offered by slow steaming while none were worried about the impact late delivery may have on sensitive or perishable cargo.

Several customers also noted that a reduction in fuel consumption automatically meant a drop in emissions of CO2. This advantage is obviously a secondary benefit, but was still rated as the second-most important reason for slow steaming. The fuel savings make a significant impact on emissions, showing that slow steaming is a major contributor toward compliance with ever stricter environmental regulations. Compliance with local environmental relations is also important for shipping lines requiring access to certain countries and ports.

Three-quarters of respondents reported that they had achieved fuel savings as expected by implementing slide fuel valve and/or turbocharger cut-out solutions. The gains were even more pronounced when it comes to engine derating and/or propeller upgrades, with 87.5% reporting expected fuel savings and none less than expected. Here, 12.5% were not able to provide a specific answer.

Another potential source of savings that is related to slow steaming is the opportunity to save expensive lubricating oil by adapting dosage to the engine load.

Customer perception of slow steaming was mainly positive with 68.4% of slow steamers considering the implementation of engine retrofits stating that their customers have reacted positively. The situation was even more pronounced among those who have implemented engine retrofit solutions with nearly 73% reporting a positive reaction.

Fuel costs were the driving factor and overriding reason for adopting slow steaming, even for those who have not implemented engine retrofits or upgrades. Depending on vessel type and operational pattern, substantial fuel savings can be obtained alone by reducing speed.

Slightly over half of the respondents who have implemented engine retrofits indicated that slow steaming has affected their shipping rates significantly or to some extent. Just under half of those considering engine retrofits shared this view. In both cases, however, the number believing that slow steaming has had a significant impact on shipping rates was lower than that believing it has to some extent.

There are a number of ways of further increasing the financial return from slow steaming. These include slide fuel valves, turbocharger cut-out solutions, lubrication oil system upgrading, engine derating and propeller upgrading. Respondents in the survey who had adopted one of more of these measures were clearly pleased with the results.

Generally speaking, there was a positive reaction from customers to slow steaming with little sign of concern about schedules and planning. There may also be a trend among shipping companies to use the financial gains from slow steaming as a competition parameter. The shipping lines that decide to invest in solutions that can further optimize their returns from slow steaming stand to gain an advantage in this respect.

In conclusion, slow steaming has been adopted by the world’s shipping community since 2007 with an increasing focus. The engines in the world’s fleet were built to run constantly at full load, which is typically not the optimal operational pattern now. This constitutes challenges to the operators in order to maximize the performance and competitiveness under these new market conditions.