Scrubber retrofits ahead of the 2020 sulphur cap could give freight rates a temporary boost by restricting capacity next year, according to Drewry.
The London-based analyst firm says that although containerships fitted with exhaust scrubbing technology will be in the minority, numbers are on the rise. This is despite the technology coming under fire, particularly so-called open loop scrubbers, which have been banned in some regions, including in Singapore.
If, however, the rising trend of scrubbers continues there is the potential for some supply-side disruption that could prove beneficial to carriers, Drewry says.
Depending on the size and type of vessel, a scrubber retrofit can take up to six weeks to undertake. Time enough to impact slot availability, according to Drewry.
“New regulation is expected to reignite the demolitions market after a down year in 2018 by weeding out more of the older, more heavily polluting ships that will no longer be economic post-2020, but at a more macro-level a number of trades could see deployment numbers temporarily reduced next year as more ships are taken out of service for retrofitting,” says Drewry.
Following a slow start, scrubber adoption to comply with low-sulphur regulation has picked up gradually.
Mediterranean Shipping Co leads the way in vessel numbers with those earmarked for retrofits representing nearly half of the overall total, but Hyundai Merchant Marine, CMA CGM and Maersk Line too have announced plans to adopt the technology on at least some of its fleet.
The latest count shows 266 retrofitted containerships, representing an aggregate capacity of 2.2m teu, according to Drewry.
“While the scrubber fleet only represents 5% of the fleet in number, it accounts for twice that ratio in teu capacity due to the emphasis towards larger ships being retrofitted,” it says. “Moreover, scrubber penetration is much more significant in the orderbook, which combined with more anticipated retrofits in time will lift the ratio higher still.”
On the major east-west trades, the penetration of scrubber-fitted ships is, as it stands, fairly low.
Drewry noted that on the Asia-Mediterranean trade only 17% of ships ran with scrubbers in November. Meanwhile, on the transpacific this number was around 10% on the Asia-North America east coast trade and 9% on Asia-North America west coast services.
Scrubber-retrofitted vessels on the Asia-northern Europe trade were even lower, representing 5% of the overall fleet.
“This means there is plenty of scope for those ships to be pulled from active duty next year to get retrofitted, which unless replaced will reduce overall utilisation and aid spot market freight rate inflation,” Drewry says.
The impact on the spot market will however depend on the extent of the retrofit wave, and how lines manage the process alongside void sailing programmes or if it will effectively replace it altogether, according to Drew