Win-win for costs and environment

As part of our Fleet Upgrade Program, around 100 ships will be retrofitted with new propellers and bulbous bows – which will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and represent a big step towards achieving our sustainability goals

Aboxy, floating structure with a crane on top. Though it looks barely buoyant, it really shows what it can do in the Port of Hamburg – such as loading heavyweights like a new 70-tonne ship’s propeller onto the “Sofia Express”. “The new propeller is the first of about 100 that will be delivered to us in the years ahead by Mecklenburger Metallguss (MMG), in the northern German town of Waren an der Müritz,” reports Martin Grieger. As Director Fleet Upgrade, he is in charge of one of Hapag-Lloyd’s biggest sustainability projects.

“Sustainability is the buzzword of our time as well as being demanded of us by the so-called IMO 2023,” Grieger notes. “In addition to our self-set decarbonisation targets, the IMO requires international shipping to reduce CO2 emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 compared to 2008 levels. We are looking at all the ships – including the older and the chartered ones – and determining where we see potential for efficiency improvements. We want to reduce the consumption of the existing fleet or transport more containers with the same output."

Our old propellers are sawn up by our supplier, Mecklenburger Metallguss (MMG) in Waren an der Müritz, melted down and reused for our new propellers

Perhaps the biggest challenge is the fact that the Fleet Upgrade Program is a giant puzzle. “Based on the evaluation of the Fleet Analytics group in our department, my colleagues and I reach agreements on which concrete measures are necessary and feasible in order to operate the ships as sustainably as possible and thereby save costs at the same time,” says Frank Tiedemann, Manager Fleet Upgrade. Most of this potential is identified using measurements from past voyages. “For example, was only half the engine’s power regularly used over a longer period of time?” Tiedemann explains. “Or are other parameters changing, such as with a decrease in the average sailing speed? In this case, it can pay off to replace the propeller and bulbous bow.”

This is determined based on design studies. And this, in turn, brings a strategic partner like Mecklenburger Metallguss into the picture. “MMG has the tremendous advantage of being able to develop a new propeller design using only computers,” says Georg Eljardt, Director Fleet Analytics & Technical Optimization Fleet Upgrade Program. Using these models makes it unneces­sary to conduct a series of time-consuming physical tests while still resulting in a propeller that is precisely tailored to the individual ship’s hull and operational profile. “MMG has an excellent track record,” Eljardt adds. “And it delivers outstanding quality.”

Transporting these colossal ship parts from Waren to Hamburg has to be done by truck. The person in charge of organising these efforts is Andrea Bachmann, Manager Project Coordination Fleet Upgrade Program. “I have overall responsibility for the project’s timeline,” Bachmann says. “Since I coordinate it in all directions, I’m constantly in contact with our Network, Technical Fleet Management and Chartering as well as with vendors and port agents.”

Bachmann had to organise the transport of the first of these new propellers to Dubai. The “Ningbo Express” had sailed to the shipyard there for its periodic class renewal and then gone into dry dock for two weeks. “The replacements of the propeller and the bulbous bow had to be performed during this period, which means that we only had a narrow time frame in which to tackle a lot of challenges,” Bachmann recalls. Shipyards in other locations will also play a role as the Fleet Upgrade Program progresses. The plan calls for similar replacements to be performed in Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Oman, Singapore and China.

Marc Höpfner keeps an eye on the logistics- and customs-related matters. “In the coming years, we will have almost 100 breakbulk shipments to carry out for the project, so I’m a bit awed by the organisational efforts involved,” says the Manager Spare Part Logistics Suppliers. “Owing to the brief docking times, there shouldn’t actually be any delays, but they won’t be completely unavoidable. That will make extremely short-term rebookings necessary. So I’m glad to be working in a network of such motivated colleagues who you can rely on even in difficult situations!”

Transports are almost always carried out within the Hapag-Lloyd network – in order to keep costs low, but also to have as much control as possible over the entire chain, from planning to execution. And whenever that isn’t possible, we at least make sure to have our own people on site. This also applies to the dry dock, where Ralf Kühne, the responsible Technical Inspector, closely monitors and coordinates the entire shipyard stay. As the primary on-site liaison with the shipyard, he is responsible not only for the retrofitting, but also for the work related to the routine class renewal. Among those he works with is Rainer Giertz, Manager Fleet Upgrade. “My job, however, already starts during the planning stage,” Giertz says. And that’s because, in addition to a new propeller, the “Ningbo Express” will also be getting a new bulbous bow. “This will allow the ship to glide through the water with less resistance, which also directly translates into lower fuel consumption and emissions.”

These efforts naturally also involved a lot of preparatory work. First of all, the ship was measured using a 3-D scanner. The organisation, evaluation and management of this were the responsibility of Giertz, working in close cooperation with Technical Fleet Management, Procurement and external partners. The bulbous bow is then usu­ally fitted by the repair yard. “We accept and approve the assembled components on site together with our Technical Inspectors,” Giertz says. “Then the components receive a coat of paint on the inside to prevent corrosion. Once the installation on the bow is complete, we move on to apply a coat of paint to the hull of the entire vessel under the watchful eye of the Technical Fleet Management inspector, which allows us to ensure a uniform application over the entire hull, including antifouling.”

Outsiders might then believe that the ship is now ready for more years of successful sailing. But Technical Inspector Lars Voss would disagree – and for good reason. “The propeller’s design, as well as its new rotational speed and different efficiency level, will have a direct influence on the main engine,” he explains. “The engine will first have to be adjusted to the new parameters, and the control and monitoring will also have to be fine-tuned in consultation with manufacturers and service providers. All of that is part of my job.”

A new bulbous bow (left) and the new propeller (right) can save around 10 percent fuel consumption

All in all, the Fleet Upgrade Program will be unique in the history of Hapag-Lloyd in terms of its scope and impact on the entire fleet – and a project as big as this will only succeed with effective cooperation.

In the end, everything will be placed in the hands of one person: Captain Johan Schultz. “According to prognoses, the retrofit will reduce our fuel consumption by about 10 per cent, which will be a huge step forward,” the captain says. “Measures such as LED lighting, radio-controlled cooling water pumps, and automatic on-demand fans in the engine room and holds will help to lower our energy requirements.” 

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