Having a large fleet of state-of-the-art container ships will be crucial if Hapag-Lloyd is to be able to live up to its corporate value ‘We deliver.”. This is what prompted us to order a total of 12 new 23,500+ TEU ships in late 2020 and mid-2021. Lutz-Michael Dyck is Senior Director Strategic Asset Projects at Hapag-Lloyd. In this interview, he tells us how the process of building the ships is going, what will be special about them, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the construction schedule.
Lutz-Michael, ordering 23,500+ TEU vessels marks a new chapter for Hapag-Lloyd, as they will be so-called ultra large container vessels (ULCVs), making them among the largest ships in the world. How has the process of building the ships been going so far?
The ships are currently being built in South Korea, and we expect the first ships to already be ready for deployment in 2023. The first ship is scheduled for delivery on 30 April 2023, and the last of the 12 vessels will be delivered to us on 31 December 2024. The first steel plate for building the first ship was cut on 27 December, and work has already started on building the so-called “blocks” that will later be used to assemble the ship. The keel-laying of the first ship in the dry dock is scheduled for 22 August 2022.
Will the ships be so-called “dual-fuel” vessels?
Yes, the ships are Hapag-Lloyd’s first newbuildings to be designed from the outset as dual-fuel vessels, meaning they can be operated with both conventional fuel oil and liquified natural gas (LNG). LNG can be used to operate not only the main engine, but also the auxiliary machinery and boilers.
Compared to conventional fuels, LNG places completely new demands on storage and handling, and we will need a lot of additional equipment. For example, the storage temperature of LNG in the tank is around -160°C (-256°C). The LNG must be vaporised to operate the machinery, and a high pressure of 300 bar is also required for the main engine. There are also other safety-related issues, as the requirements are much higher for LNG systems. All of this is still new for us. However, thanks to the retrofitting of the “Brussels Express”, we have already gained some valuable experience with engines featuring dual-fuel technology. Even though the tank on that ship is different, its main engine is more or less the same: a MAN engine with a high-pressure system. We chose this type of engine because its so-called “methane slip” – meaning the unburned methane that escapes from engines into the atmosphere – is lower than with a low-pressure system. This will also enable us to meet the tightened environment-protection requirements better.
This is already a step in the right direction. In the future, however, we want to operate our ships increasingly with CO2-neutral SNG or bio gas.
Does the LNG tank place special demands on the construction of the ship and the time schedule?
Unlike with standard fuel tanks, the LNG tank isn’t part of the block method of construction. Instead, it is built in another location. More time was allotted for building the tanks of the first ship. This is a pilot project – and one that is the first of its kind in the world – because the Type B tank will be made of steel with a particularly high manganese content. This is why the welders will need special training. So 200 welders had to be trained first, which naturally required a certain amount of advance preparation. Even so, construction was able to start earlier than we had predicted.
The new ships are so-called “ultra large container vessels”. How much bigger than our A18-class ships will they be?
With a length of about 400 metres, the new ships aren’t any longer than our A18-class ships, but they are wider. The breadth – or “beam” – of the new ships will be 61.0 metres, compared to the 58.6 metres of the A18-class ships, which will allow us to load the ships with 23,660 containers.
Do we already know what the names of the ships will be?
We have already chosen names for the first six ships. They will be the “Singapore Express”, the “Manila Express”, the “Bangkok Express”, the “Mumbai Express”, the “Busan Express” and the “Hanoi Express”.
Do we have any other ships on order besides the 23,500+ TEU vessels?
Yes, we have two other outstanding orders for ships, one for three and one for two. We will be able to load approximately 13,000 containers on these ships. They will not be equipped with dual-fuel engines. Instead, these will be five state-of-the-art full container ships with scrubbers (i.e. exhaust gas cleaning systems), and they are being built in South Korea and China. We will take delivery of the first ship in South Korea on 31 August 2023.
Asia has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Has this had any impact on the schedule for building the ships?
Even though Asia as a whole has suffered greatly from the pandemic, South Korea has been less affected than other countries on the continent. South Korea has very strict measures in place to contain the spread of the virus. For example, when entering the country, everyone has to install an app on their smartphone that allows the relevant authorities to track their whereabouts during their stay. On top of that, everyone is required to have a health examination every day and to transmit it to the health authorities. Such measures would be unimaginable in many other countries, as they would entail a curtailment of data privacy and protection rights. Nevertheless, South Korea has been quite successful at containing the coronavirus using this approach, and it also has a very strong handle on the impacts of COVID-19. But these strict measures are making it harder for us to send our colleagues to South Korea for on-site meetings. At the moment, everyone who goes to South Korea first has to spend 10 days in quarantine.
In any case, as a result of South Korea’s low infection rate, progress on building the ships hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic yet. The only thing that could present a hurdle is the delayed arrival of equipment from outside the country, but we haven’t had any problems with that yet, either. What’s more, owing to the large number of deliveries that we will receive for several ships, we always have the possibility to react and reschedule – because they are all structurally identical. If the construction of the first ship goes smoothly, I’m very confident that there shouldn’t be any delays with the other ones, either.
About Lutz-Michael Dyck
Lutz-Michael Dyck has been working at Hapag-Lloyd since 1991. He holds a graduate degree in marine engineering. Dyck has sailed for Hapag-Lloyd in various positions, most recently as chief with a double patent – one as a chief engineer and one as a nautical master – the second of which he earned with Hapag-Lloyd. In 1997, he came ashore and initially worked as Superintendent for Hapag-Lloyd Cruises (integrated into TUI in 2008). After roughly 18 months there, he switched to the Ship Management division. During his time with Hapag-Lloyd, he has worked in South Korea for a total of two and a half years – from 1992 to 1993 and again from 2000 to 2002. From 2004 to 2020, he was Head of Technical Fleet Management in Hamburg. For almost two years now, he has been Senior Director Strategic Asset Projects.