Jones Act carrier TOTE Inc. has ordered two LNG-powered container ships, the first of their kind, to operate in the carrier’s Sea Star Line service between the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico.
The company said the ships represent “a major technological milestone” in shipping. The vessels will be built by General Dynamics’ NAASCO yard in San Diego. The contract provides options for three additional vessels.
TOTE said the ships will have capacity of 3,100 20-foot-equivalent units, making them the largest container ships in the U.S.-flag domestic trade and the world’s largest ships of any kind powered primarily powered by liquefied natural gas.
Both ships will be powered by dual-fuel LNG engines can burn either diesel or LNG. The vessels will greatly surpass the requirements of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s clean-air regulations.
In August TOTE announced plans to convert two diesel-powered roll-on, roll-off ships in the Pacific Northwest-Alaska trade to also run on LNG.
“We believe LNG is the fuel of the future,” said Anthony Chiarello, TOTE president and CEO. He said the decision to use LNG was aimed primarily at reducing vessel emissions.
The Marpol Annex VI requires ships to burn low-sulfur fuel or LNG or use other measures within an emissions control area extending 200 nautical miles from the coast. All of TOTE’s PNW-Alaska route and most of its Florida-Puerto Rico run is within that area.
The ships will be “the most environmentally friendly container ships in the world,” TOTE said. The vessels will have carbon dioxide emissions per container of 71 percent less than the 1970s-era vessels Sea Star currently operates, and will reduce emissions of particulate matter by 99 percent, sulfur oxides by 98 percent and nitrogen oxides by 91 percent.
TOTE said it has committed more than $350 million to the project involving the new container ships. Chiarello said that figure includes costs of equipment and construction at terminals in addition to the ships. Privately held TOTE would not disclose the cost of the vessels.
The company said the new ships will carry five times more 53-foot containers than current ships in Puerto Rico and will include expanded volumes for refrigeration equipment.
The two new vessels are scheduled to enter service between Jacksonville and San Juan in 2015 and 2016. Chiarello said no decision has been made on where the possible three additional ships will be deployed, if they are built.
The ships are being ordered by TOTE Shipholding, a subsidiary that will charter the vessels to Sea Star, TOTE Inc.’s U.S. mainland-Puerto Rico carrier.
Technology for LNG-powered ships is proven but hasn’t been used for container ships, Chiarello said. He said LNG would be impractical for a larger ship operating on a long route, because too much cargo space would be taken up by fuel tanks.
But he said it’s ideal for a short trade such as the 1,100-mile route between Jacksonville and San Juan.
The ships are designed to make slightly more than two round trips per tankful between Florida and Puerto Rico, and the plan is to fill up at the start of each round trip. TOTE is still considering where to source the fuel.
“These vessels mark a new age of shipping using the best technology in the world,” Chiarello said. “This investment demonstrates our commitment to the people of Puerto Rico and our environment. These vessels mark a new age of shipping using the best technology in the world."