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Scrubber installations hit by delays and lower spread

Scrubbers were seen as a smart move when the cost of low-sulphur fuel was at its peak. Now, with oil prices and bunker costs crashing, the argument is not as convincing

Ships go back into service as scrubber delays mount. For a technology that has always divided opinion among ship operators, this is an unwelcome development

A NUMBER of boxship owners have given up on waiting for yard space for scrubber retrofits and have returned their ships to service as owners look to mitigate losses from having ships laid up, according to Alphaliner.

“Several charter owners reported severe delays at shipyards due to a shortage of local labour and subcontractors,” Alphaliner said.

It added that the number of ships undergoing retrofits was at a record high of 117 vessels, comprising more than 1m teu of capacity, and that at least 17 of these had endured yard stays of more than three months.

Mediterranean Shipping Co is reportedly among those hardest hit, with over 20 ships stuck in yards for more than 100 days.

The delays come at a time when the economics of scrubbers are being called into question.

“Early scrubber adopters have also been affected by a drastic decline in bunker prices, with low-sulphur fuel oil falling to a new low of $258 per tonne in Rotterdam on March 16,” Alphaliner said.

“The price premium of compliant fuel over heavy fuel oil currently stands at just $60 per tonne. This low spread greatly reduces the benefits that owners of scrubber-fitted ships enjoy, with payback periods stretching to four or five years, against earlier projections of just less than one year, based on a spread of over $200 per tonne.”

Separately, Drewry noted that the collapse of bunker prices had come as a surprise, coming so soon after the rise in costs caused by the introduction of IMO 2020 low-sulphur regulation.

Prices for bunkers had initially risen between 35%-45%, Drewry said.

“But these increases have just been reversed, following the crash of oil prices and the 35% fall in VLSFO bunker prices between January, the highest point, and the first half of March, the lowest point to date,” it said. “Nobody had expected this to happen.”

This would be of benefit to shippers, which would see the fuel element of their freight rates reduced, it added. “The extra cost of the IMO 2020 rule will be deferred until the global economy normalises.”

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