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PORT REPORT: Japanese giant MOL trials experimental LNG-fuelled tugboat at Kobe

Pictured: MOL's tugboat, "Ishin", receiving LNG-bunkers from a truck at the Port of Kobe, Japan. Photo: supplied by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL).

Tokyo headquartered Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) has taken part in the first bunkering of liquefied natural gas (LNG) into a tugboat at the Port of Kobe, Japan.

At the Port of Kobe, the tugboat “Ishin” was bunkered with LNG. It is the first LNG-fuelled tugboat in Japan and it is operated by a MOL group subsidiary, Nihon Tug-Boat. 

“This marks the first LNG bunkering in the Port of Kobe, and the successful trial confirmed that LNG fuel can be effectively supplied safely at the port,” MOL said in a statement.

In maritime jargon, “bunkers” are the fuel for ships and “bunkering” is the process of refuelling a ship. 

LNG for the trial bunkering was hauled by a road tanker from the nearby Himeji LNG Plant, about 30 miles or so to the west of Kobe, and was transferred by a truck-to-ship system. The LNG is supplied to the tugboat from an LNG-capable road tanker on shore. MOL also provided consultancy services for the operation. 

MOL has previously carried out LNG bunkering with the Ishin but at a different port. The first time the Ishin was ever LNG-bunkered was in January this year, shortly before its official “delivery” ceremony.

MOL’s experimental LNG-powered tugboat

The Ishin was ordered back in May 2017 and it is / was the first LNG-fuelled tugboat in Japan. It is designed to comply with the International Code of Safety for Ships using Gases or Other Low-flashpoint Fuels, which is also known as the IGF Code. 

The vessel has also earned “four stars” from an energy-rating programme run by Japan’s influential Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. The aim of the Ministry’s programme is to discover energy savings and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions during the planning and design stages of coastal vessels. The ultimate purpose is to “foster the development of coastal ships that offer greater energy saving and [carbon dioxide] reduction”. 

The Ishin was built at Kanagawa Dockyard and the Yanmar Company provided the dual-fuel engines. The tug has a removable LNG fuel tank mounted on the stern deck.  “This enhances convenience in bunkering, maintenance, and inspection,” MOL says. 

The vessel is to be used to escort large ships in Osaka Bay and the Seto Inland Sea. The tug was also commissioned with the aim of helping to develop knowledge and expertise about LNG-fuelled tug operations. Lessons learned from the tug will be used to help build other LNG-fuelled marine craft such as a more environmentally friendly ferry. It is also hoped that the deployment of the tug will “spur the initial development of an LNG fuel supply system for vessels in Osaka Bay. 

The Ishin was delivered in late February to the Port of Kobe. The Ishin has a gross tonnage (a measure of all the internal space in the vessel) of 247 gross tons. It has a length of 43.6 meters (143 feet). It has a breadth of 9.2 meters (30.2 feet), a draft (the amount of the hull that is underwater) of 3.15 meters (10.3 feet) and a speed of 16.4 knots (18.9 miles per hour). 

MOL describes the vessel as having an “excellent” environmental profile with a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 25 percent when compared to tugs that run on fuel oil. 

Ishin is part of a bigger LNG-picture

Noting that the International Maritime Organization’s low-sulfur in fuel regulations (IMO 2020) are due to enter force globally early next year, MOL says that “an increasing number of LNG-fuelled vessels are coming into service, making the development of LNG bunkering ports in Japan an urgent task”. 

MOL set up a Bunker Business Office in 2017 to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the move toward LNG-powered marine craft. The Bunker Business Office is an independent entity within the group’s energy transport unit. Along with mundane duties of buying and preparing regular fuel and lubricants, it also has a mission to “accelerate initiatives concerning vessels with engines that use alternative fuel such as LNG” and also to “participate in LNG and other fuel supply businesses in an integrated fashion”. 

One such example was the signing in February this year with Pavilion Gas of a charter for a 12,000 cubic meter (423,776 cubic feet) LNG-bunker tanker in Singapore. According to MOL, Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority is working to develop an LNG fuel supply infrastructure. MOL is working with Singapore based companies to build and manage the vessel. MOL’s bunker tanker will be the second bunker tanker in Singapore and it is due to begin work in early 2021. 

Back in February 2018 a long-term charter was also signed between Total Marine Fuels Global Solutions and MOL for an LNG bunker tanker of 18,600 cubic meters (656,853 cubic feet) to be deployed in northern Europe. This bunker tanker will be the largest LNG-bunker tanker in the world. It will be used to bunker LNG onto very large LNG-powered container ships, especially those deployed on the Asia-Europe route. The vessel is being built by Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding of China.

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