Ships diverted from Red Sea pump out more emissions in bid to speed up

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Emissions from container ships, car carriers and dry bulk ships diverting from the Red Sea are set to increase as much as 70 per cent as vessel operators increase speeds to compensate for the longer route around the Cape of Good Hope.

Leading container ship operators including Denmark’s AP Møller-Maersk, and Hapag-Lloyd are among companies which have increased vessel speeds in an attempt to minimise the extra sailing time for ships that would normally use the Suez Canal.

The increased emissions are a result of vessels being rerouted because of the attacks by Yemen’s Houthis on commercial ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Most shipping companies have been taking the longer route since November, which at normal speeds adds between 10 days and two weeks to a container ship’s voyage from Asia to Europe.

The speed increases follow nearly a decade of “slow steaming” by most shipping companies in a bid to economise on fuel use and minimise their carbon emissions.

Maersk, operator of the world’s second-biggest container ship fleet, said it had “suspended” slow-steaming on some services to catch up on “some of the delay” from sailing around the Cape of Good Hope.

Hapag-Lloyd, the fifth-biggest container line, said speeds had generally increased and that it was accelerating ships when necessary to overcome congestion delays.

Houthi conflict threatens ocean trade through crucial shipping canal. Map showing shipping route from Shanghai to Rotterdam via the Suez Canal and Cape of Good Hope. A typical shipping journey from Shanghai to Rotterdam via the Cape of Good Hope takes up to two weeks longer than using the Suez Canal

Shipping analysts at Sea Intelligence said that shipping line customers were “caught between a rock and a hard place” by the operators’ decisions to increase vessel speeds.

“If they want to move their cargo, they will have to accept a significant increase in their carbon emissions,” the company wrote in a note.

Simon Heaney, senior manager in container research at London-based Drewry Shipping Consultants, said container ships in recent years had been operating at 14 knots, the equivalent of about 16 miles per hour on land. He anticipated most shipping lines would follow a “hybrid” approach, increasing speeds only to 15 or 16 knots.

Sea Intelligence estimates that for a modern large container ship a 1 per cent speed increase typically produces a 2.2 per cent rise in fuel consumption. An increase from 14 to 16 knots would increase consumption per mile by 31 per cent. Together with the longer distance, emissions for a round trip would rise by just over 70 per cent.

Lasse Kristoffersen, chief executive of Wallenius Wilhelmsen, operator of the largest fleet of car-carrying ships, said his company’s vessels had also sped up. Car-carrier operators — which move completed vehicles, mainly from Japan, Korea and China to Europe and the United States — were struggling to cope with a big increase in demand even before the diversions. Few new vessels are due for delivery this year.

Kristoffersen stressed the vessel speeds were “nothing near” to the speeds that could make up for the added transit time, adding that European emissions trading regulations were a limiting factor to the speeds. Shipping companies that operate into and out of EU ports were included in the emissions trading scheme — which forces emitters to buy permits for excess emissions — since the start of this year.

The speed increases extend to companies moving dry bulk commodities such as coal, iron ore and grain whose ships in recent years have sailed at average speeds as low as 10 or 11 knots.

Jan Rindbo, head of Norden, a Danish operator of several hundred dry bulk ships, said with daily charter rates for dry bulk ships about 50 per cent higher than a year ago, the company’s vessels were running “a bit faster” than before the recent disruption.

Hans-Christian Olesen, chief executive of Denmark’s Ultrabulk, which operates 155 dry bulk carriers, expected increased pressure for higher speeds going forward. However, he expressed concern at the potential impact of higher speeds, noting: “It comes at an enormous environmental cost.”

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