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Costa Group's LNG cruise ships forecast as 40% more efficient

Costa Group's LNG cruise ships forecast as 40% more efficient
The four LNG-powered cruise ships for the Costa Group are expected to be 'dramatically more efficient'—overall, as much as more than 40% more efficient.

So said David Bernstein, cfo of Carnival Corp. & plc, in comparing the newbuilds—which are due to start arriving in 2019—with the existing fleet.

The ships, two for AIDA Cruises at Meyer Werft, and two for unspecified Costa Group brands at Meyer Turku, will use LNG in dual-powered hybrid engines to provide power needs both in port and underway. LNG will be stored on board and used to generate 100% power at sea.

Bernstein said Carnival projects LNG will become the fuel of choice over time.

For years the cruise giant had been working on LNG as part of a multi-pronged approach to meeting new fuel standards and tougher air emissions regulations.

'All the stars aligned,' said Carnival's Tom Dow, vp government affairs-North America, when IMO this month adopted new rules for LNG. Those were anticipated, and Carnival's newbuild announcement immediately followed.

'We're excited to be the first adopter of LNG for cruise vessels,' Dow told Seatrade Cruise News. This shows 'great promise' as an alternative for meeting progressive emissions-reduction regulations in a 'fairly economical way because the price of LNG is competitive, and we think it will [remain] competitive,' he said.

Carnival several years ago reached the design concept stage in a plan to retrofit tankage and trial LNG on one engine that would supply hotel needs in port. This was seen as an alternative where shore power wasn't available.  

The challenges were how to retrofit LNG tanks on existing cruise ships, whether and where there would be reliable fuel supplies and what regulations IMO would decide.

At the same time, Carnival was working on an LNG barge for cold ironing through AIDA Cruises at the Port of Hamburg (which began regular fueling operations this month) and was looking at scrubbers. A breakthrough in scrubber technology led Carnival to shelve the dual-tankage plan for LNG, and the company prioritized installing scrubbers on more than 70 ships.

But LNG development was not abandoned. AIDA's first newbuild at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, AIDAprima, will emerge this autumn with a dual-fuel system that enables LNG use in port.

The AIDA newbuilds just contracted at Meyer Werft take LNG use further with a system that provides 100% propulsion power. They're being designed in accordance with the new IMO regulations.

LNG tanks are larger than the fuel tanks aboard existing Carnival ships, and there are special requirements for pressurization and thickness. Starting with a blank sheet of paper to plan newbuilds is preferable to retrofitting tanks on existing ships, Dow said. 

At more than 180,000gt, the newbuilds will be the largest Carnival has ever constructed. Their size is not specifically related to the space needed for LNG but it certainly facilitates that. Because LNG is a less dense fuel, a large tankage volume is needed.

Concerning LNG availability, Carnival expects supply in northern Europe and the Mediterranean to follow demand, Dow said. Fueling could be carried out at the dock, by pipeline or LNG barge.

The newbuilds are designated for the Costa Group, whose ships principally sail in Europe, where steady LNG supply is anticipated and air emissions standards are high.

'AIDA has been particularly focused on this because of their operations in Germany and the Baltic so they were very keen to support LNG development,' Dow explained. A new Carnival Maritime, Costa Group center in Hamburg is intended to be a center of excellence for Costa and AIDA ship operations.

Costa Group ceo Michael Thamm's 'willingness and eagerness to be involved in LNG was certainly a critical factor' in the newbuilds, Dow added. The Hamburg center is working closely with Carnival Corporate Shipbuilding in Southampton on the designs.

When it comes to safety, 'LNG is very safe,' Dow said. 'In some cases, it may be safer than liquid fuel.'

If any public education is needed, there is time before the ships enter service, and Dow thinks regulators will be helpful in the way the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard were helpful in endorsing scrubbers.

Tankers have safely hauled LNG for many years, so there's no issue concerning safe storing and bunkering. LNG engine technology also is well-established.

LNG on a passenger ship was piloted 15 years ago on a Norwegian ro-ro ferry, Glutra, and has been successfully operating since early 2013 on the large Baltic ferry Viking Grace, built at Turku. A number of ferry operators are now retrofitting vessels or plan LNG newbuilds.

Cruisers will not likely notice anything different about the appearance of LNG ships, however since LNG is a cleaner-burning fuel, that should be beneficial to them and to port communities, Dow said.

If anything visible comes from the stack, it's likely to be just moisture from condensation.