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The Scrubber Conundrum: Will They Generate Profits or just Savings?

In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Intermodal said that “with the IMO 2020 approaching, it becomes challenging for the market to accurately explore the run-up to the deadline given that marine fuel-oil of 0.5% sulphur content does not yet exist physically nor financially. Thus, there is technical and financial planning to be involved and as reported the current global crude streams enable the production of about 15mill bl/d of final 0.5% sulphur content marine fuel if refineries maximize output. The market is currently using Gasoil 0.1% sulphur content price as a proxy for the upcoming 0.5%S MFO. Accordingly, it is estimated that between 2020 and 2022 it will trade at USD 90/ton discount to the Gasoil 0.1% price. Later, it is projected that the 0.5% MFO price will settle closer to the HFO 3.5% price, at a USD 90/ton premium to HFO 3.5%”.

According to Ms. Katerina Resti from Intermodal’s tanker chartering department, “as seen, many ship-owners have rushed to order scrubbers and as reported in 2020 there will be more than 1600 scrubbers installed and on order. It is projected that between 2021 and 2022 demand will be much higher always subject to the order books. As discussed in 2020, the global bunker oil consumption will be mainly MFO of 0.5% sulphur content and almost 95% of vessels will not have scrubbers fitted. Unavoidably, in order for refineries to produce MFO of 0.5% sulphur content there will be a great availability of HFO 3.5% fuel. This is because high sulphur residue fuel is a by product in the production of MFO 0.5%. Rationally HFO 3.5% will be available in larger ports and most probably will be utilized by container vessels in certain routes or product carriers that will trade between refineries. Therefore, for these routes and specific trade, scrubber installation will certainly advance. In general, it is forecasted that more than 2.0m bl/d of HFO 3.5% surplus will be produced in 2020 and the question remains where and how this amount of fuel will be stored. The increased inventory will lead to HFO 3.5% prices being low for some time until the supply/demand balances and thus prices will be restored in the later years”.

Intermodal’s analyst added that “furthermore, as the new fuel is yet unknown there is a discussion by ship-owners whether blending MFO 0.5% from various suppliers will be stable and not likely to damage engines. Overall, most shippers are installing scrubbers to part of their fleet to build up step by step knowledge. Scrubber installation has led many to believe that “early movers will make a scrubber profit” while “late movers will make a scrubber saving”. Last but not least, many ship-owners that have their vessels on long time charters have considered the option to include a clause in their charter parties, for Charterers requesting a scrubber vessel, to pay for it through hire agreement”.

“The next couple of years will not be short of interesting developments for sure. The second half of 2019 and closer to 2020 will lead to more confident conclusions towards the MFO 0.5%, Gasoil 0.1% and HFO 3.5% price spreads with the maritime industry’s bunker fuel shift. It is expected that concerns related to volatility of the MFO 0.5% product will progressively dissolve as more users will be able to test it during 2019 leading to the understanding that it will not be a gasoil-based product but instead a fuel-based bunker. Finally, it is expected that scrubber installation for bigger vessels will be hurried while for fleets with smaller vessels it will take longer. The main question to be answered is whether scrubber installation will generate profits or just savings”, Resti concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide

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