Cutting-edge coal bulker extends Japanese fleet

The 2017-completed 'Nagara Maru' is a sistership to the newly-built 'Oi Maru'. Credit: Mitsui OSK Lines The 2017-completed 'Nagara Maru' is a sistership to the newly-built 'Oi Maru'. Credit: Mitsui OSK Lines

MOL’s ‘Oi Maru’ has joined a fleet tackling the transport demands fuelled by rising coal consumption by Japan’s power generation industry. David Tinsley reports.

The 91,000dwt vessel is the latest investment in Japan’s dedicated fleet of coal bulkers, handed over during June at Namura Shipbuilding’s Imari yard, in western Japan. The ship has been optimised for shipments to Chubu Electric Power’s Hekinan generating plant in central Japan’s Aichi province, and is accordingly dubbed a Hekinan-max coal carrier.

Beneficially-owned and managed by Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), Oi Maru will be deployed by Singapore-based JERA Trading and will join two other MOL vessels of the same type, the 2015-built Shin Yahagi Maru and 2017-delivered Nagara Maru.

Embodying the wide beam (43m), relatively shallow draught (12.6m) configuration of a state-of-the-art Japanese coal bulker, the design has been jointly conceived by Namura and MOL and features a length overall at the 250m parameter for the Hekinan discharge port on Mikawa Bay.

The Liberian-flagged, gearless Oi Maru is arranged with six holds, affording of a total volume of about 121,000m3. The bulker offers a service speed of about 14 knots from an MAN, electronically-controlled two-stroke engine of the S60ME series, rated for 10,450kW at 94.5 rpm and manufactured under licence at the Tamano works of Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding.

Propulsion performance is enhanced by two Namura-developed appendages, a flow control fin (NCF) and a rudder fin. The NCF energy-saving device comprises a pair of fins fitted at the stern at a slight inclination to the shaftline angle, improving water flow to, and reducing turbulence around, the propeller. A centralised freshwater cooling system has been adopted for machinery space equipment so as to ease maintenance, and dedicated tank storage has been provided for low sulphur fuel oil.

Thermal coal imports to Japan hit a record 114.5m tonnes in 2017, and coal currently makes up about 30% of the energy mix. Australia and Indonesia are the main sources of both thermal and metallurgical coal. Domestic production virtually ceased some years ago. Coal and also LNG purchases from abroad have been rising since the Fukushima disaster of 2011, as court orders and public opposition have slowed the recommissioning of many of the country’s idled nuclear reactors.

Ultra-supercritical and supercritical plant, developed to limit emissions and embracing carbon capture technology, make up about three-quarters of Japan’s installed coal-fired power station capacity.  The ultra-supercritical cycle produces steam at very high heat and pressure, boosting plant efficiency to some 45% compared with 30-35% for conventional stations.

Headquartered in Singapore, with offices in London and Maryland, JERA Trading ranks among the leading utility-backed coal traders worldwide, operating in both the Pacific and Atlantic basins, and handling annual coal sales of approximately 60m tonnes.

The company is 67%-owned by a joint venture of Chubu Electric Power and compatriot Tepco Fuel & Power, and 33% by EDF Trading, part of the French-controlled power producer EDF. The Japanese and French partners are looking to expand JERA Trading’s activities into the global LNG market.

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