Siem Car Carriers’ dual-fuel newbuilding project is yet another example of Norwegian-based operators spearheading the use of LNG as a fuel in the vehicle shipping sector.

With strong government support, Norway operates more LNG-fuelled vessels than any other country, with DNV GL data showing all of the world’s six pure car carriers are controlled by Norwegians.

The Siem project is also backed by car manufacturer Volkswagen and bunker supplier Shell. The first of two approximately 7,700-ceu dual-fuel newbuildings is due for delivery from China’s Xiamen Shipbuilding Industry in November.

Alex Gregg-Smith, vice president of technical at Siem Shipping, says the pair will be the first transatlantic-capable LNG-fuelled car carriers ever built.

If it was not for the twin LNG fuel tanks, located on the bottom deck just above the tank top and in front of the engine room, they would be among the largest car carriers in the world in terms of capacity.

A computer-generated image of Siem's LNG-fuelled car carrier Photo: Siem Shipping

Gregg-Smith says the ships have been designed around the LNG system, with an intention to minimise its impact on the car-carrying capacity. Tanks cannot be located on the deck because it is so high up and would adversely affect stability.

Each insulated tank is 35 metres long and 8.5 metres in diameter. Type C design has been chosen, enabling the LNG to be stored without burning for 21 days.

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“Obviously, LNG is a very clean fuel so it is positive for the maintenance and operation of the engines themselves,” Gregg-Smith says. “You design the thickness of the insulation so you get the correct boil-off rate.”

Shell’s role

The 3,600-cbm LNG capacity of each Siem car carrier is dwarfed by what CMA CGM has designed for its planned 22,000-teu, LNG-powered boxships. But it exceeds, for example, the fuel capacity of the AET-owned, 113,416-dwt aframax tanker Eagle Brasilia (built 2018), which recently took on 450 tonnes of LNG in Rotterdam, equating to around 1,040 cbm — or 60% — of that vessel’s LNG-bunker capacity.

Shell’s specialised bunkering vessel, the 6,500-cbm Cardissa (built 2017), performed that operation.

The energy major will also bunker the Siem ships but from Emden, northern Germany, where full cargoes of Volkswagen vehicles are loaded.

Bunkering is expected to take eight to 10 hours, with crew having already undergone specialist training relating to bunkering procedures and requirements under the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).

Based on the Siem bunkering contract, Shell is also behind the building of a Jones Act LNG bunker barge that will fuel the new car carriers in Jacksonville, Florida, as well as serving Carnival Corp's cruiseship newbuildings.

“This was a coordinated effort between the three parties [Volkswagen, Siem and Shell],” Gregg Smith says. “A team effort. Everbody has a keen interest to do things greener and cleaner.”

Car makers’ clean drive

Siem Car Carriers, registered in Norway but with chartering activities based in the UK, has been developing the project with Volkswagen — one of the pioneers of the Clean Shipping Initiative — for several years. The second newbuilding is pencilled in for delivery in March 2020.

Gregg-Smith says the ships have been designed, and approved by the authorities, to handle cargo operations and bunkering simultaneously.

They can also be drydocked with LNG in the tanks, which means they will never have to be gas freed.

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The intention is for them to be delivered in a cold condition, bunker and go straight into service.

Siem has planned to operate them nearly 100% using LNG to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with just a pilot fuel of marine gas oil (MGO) to start the combustion process.

Therefore, sulphur and fine particulate emissions are virtually eliminated, and both CO2 and NOx emissions are reduced compared to heavy fuel oil.

At “eco-speed”, the ABS-classified ships will have a range of 18,000 nautical miles (33,336 kilometres) burning LNG and sufficient capacity for transatlantic voyages using MGO.

Siem is currently operating five out of seven car carriers employed by Volkswagen on the Atlantic service from Germany to the US East Coast and US Gulf, ending up in Mexico where the vessels load again for the US East Coast and return to Europe.

Forerunner vessels have been provided by Siem to fulfil the contract until the LNG-powered ships are delivered.

Gregg-Smith says other large car manufacturers are showing a similar interest and, given Siem’s experience with the Volkswagen project, the owner/operator would probably be positive about building more LNG-fuelled vessels if contracts are sufficiently long enough and at a price that makes sense.

The first of Siem Car Carriers' dual-fuel newbuildings under construction in China Photo: Siem Shipping