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Dual-fuel vessels: Hapag-Lloyd crews to be trained in handling LNG engines

Companies across the shipping industry have made decarbonisation one of the key focuses of their sustainability strategies. To achieve this goal, the industry is relying on alternative propulsion systems – but this will entail a big change for everyone involved. The International Maritime Organization and the DNV classification society expect that the number of seafarers working on shipped fuelled by liquefied gas – whether LNG or LPG – will increase by roughly 100,000 every other year between now and 2038. These crews will need training on how to handle the alternative propulsions systems so as to be able to use the new technology safely.

Converting Hapag-Lloyd’s ships to dual-fuel propulsion – so that they can operate using both conventional low-sulphur fuel oil and LNG – represents a first major step on the company’s path to becoming climate-neutral by 2045. But it will also entail a big change. In the years ahead, a dozen dual-fuel newbuildings will be joining Hapag-Lloyd’s fleet. Safely using the technology will require new know-how. “The dual-fuel ships will have to be sailed by a crew specially trained to handle LNG propulsion," says Silke Muschitz, who is responsible for the seafaring personnel at Hapag-Lloyd as Senior Director Marine Human Resources. “But they lack practical experience with it.”

For this reason, all of Hapag-Lloyd’s seafarers will be earning a “gas certificate” in the current and following year. To do so, the European crews of Hapag-Lloyd ships will be attending a weeklong training in Hamburg, which will include both a technical part and a part focused on the safety system. The ship chandler Wilhelm Rump KG developed the training exclusively for Hapag-Lloyd in cooperation with the AfS academy for maritime safety, based in the north-eastern German coastal city of Rostock. “The technology isn’t anything new, as gas systems have been around for decades,” says Hagen Koslowski, Managing Director at Wilhelm Rump KG. “But it is new in shipping, and we are can feel a certain sense of excitement and new beginnings.”

The training was conducted with liquid nitrogen, which is also a liquefied gas.

After completing a mandatory two-day online learning module designed by the AfS, 12 members of the navigation and engineering staffs at a time go through the intensive, five-day training course needed to earn the official “gas certificate”, which qualifies them to work with liquefied natural gas (LNG) in ship operations. The training sessions are held on Wilhelm Rump KG’s premises in the Port of Hamburg. Since many seafarers are a bit wary about handling gas, the training also aims to boost their confidence in the new technology. “As our seafarers will play a crucial role on our path to climate neutrality , we will need to make sure that they are committed to the cause,” Muschitz says. “Whether they are just starting their careers or about to retire, they will have to embrace these efforts.”

During the trainings, participants are introduced to the technical equipment that is required for dual-fuel operation on board in addition to the normal diesel engine. What’s more, they learn what LNG is and how to handle it.

Bunkering with LNG demonstrator for the practical exercises on the complete bunkering process with different dry coupling systems

The AfS is responsible for the practical part of the training. Participants are shown an LNG bunkering operation in normal operation and trained to deal with extremely cold temperatures, as LNG only transitions at -162°C from a gaseous to a liquid state, which makes it suitable for transport and storage. When being prepared for use, the liquid is heated up again to change it back into gas. A mobile bunker station of a ship has been set up in the courtyard of the Wilhelm Rump KG premises especially for this purpose. The second part of the practical training deals with operational malfunctions, such as when there are leaks and gas fires.

Our crews still have have to learn how to extinguish gas fires. Water or blankets are not enough, as would be the case with normal fires.

Participants have had overwhelmingly positive reviews of the course. “With this training, we are learning completely new safety basics,” said Chief Mate Taalke Sina Middents. “This is as important for us navigators as it is for the engineers. After all, we are all responsible for safety together.” In addition to answering any questions that participants might have and preparing them well to work with dual-fuel propulsion systems, the training also shows them just how safe the new technology is. Participants have especially liked the fact that the courses have been tailor-made for Hapag-Lloyd, as this enables them to learn the safety-related basics that they will be able to apply in practice in exactly the same way. “The quality of the course was very high,” says Thomas Oesterle, captain of the “Ludwigshafen Express” and with Hapag-Lloyd since 2002. “No questions were left unanswered. I’d be thrilled to sail on one of the LNG ships one day. It’s always exciting to learn something new.”

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