Emissions from container ships, car carriers and bulk carriers diverting from the Red Sea are expected to increase by up to 70% as vessel operators increase speed to compensate for the longer route around the Cape of Good Hope.
Major container ship operators, including Denmark’s AP Møller-Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd, are among the companies that have increased ship speeds in an attempt to minimize extra sailing time for ships that would normally use the Suez Canal.
The increase in emissions is a result of the diversion of ships due to 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 journey from Asia to Europe.
The speed increase comes after nearly a decade of “slow sailing” by most shipping companies in an attempt to save fuel and minimize their carbon emissions.
Maersk, operator of the world’s second-largest fleet of container ships, said it has “suspended” slow sailing on some services to make up for “some of the delay” in sailing around the Cape of Good Hope.
Hapag-Lloyd, the fifth-largest container line, said speeds had generally increased and it was speeding up ships when necessary to overcome delays.
Shipping analysts at Sea Intelligence said shipping lines’ customers were “between a rock and a hard place” because of operators’ decision to increase ship 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 container research manager at Drewry Shipping Consultants in London, said container ships in recent years were operating at 14 knots, the equivalent of about 16 miles per hour on land. He anticipated that most shipping lines would follow a “hybrid” approach, increasing speeds only to 15 or 16 knots.
Sea Intelligence estimates that for a large, modern container ship, a 1% increase in speed typically produces a 2.2% increase in fuel consumption. An increase from 14 to 16 knots would increase consumption per mile by 31%. Coupled with the greater distance, emissions from a round trip would increase by just over 70%.
Lasse Kristoffersen, chief executive of Wallenius Wilhelmsen, operator of the largest fleet of car carriers, said his company’s vessels also sped up. Operators of car carriers — which transport vehicles mainly from Japan, Korea and China to Europe and the United States — were struggling to cope with a huge increase in demand even before the diversions. Few new ships are scheduled for delivery this year.
Kristoffersen emphasized that the ships’ speeds were “far from” speeds that could compensate for the additional transit time, adding that European emissions trading regulations were a limiting factor for the speeds. Shipping companies operating in European Union ports have been included in the emissions trading scheme — which obliges emitters to buy allowances for excessive emissions — since the beginning of this year.
The speed increases extend to companies that move 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 bulk carriers, said that with daily charter rates for bulk carriers about 50% higher than a year ago, the company’s ships were sailing “a little faster” than before the recent outage.
Hans-Christian Olesen, chief executive of Denmark’s Ultrabulk, which operates 155 bulk carriers, expected growing pressure for higher speeds in the future. However, he expressed concern about the potential impact of higher speeds. “This comes at a huge environmental cost.”