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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

AleksandrSuvorovIt’s official. The UK is importing more coal now than for 50 years, up 25% over 12 months.

And Europe is importing more too, despite multifarious statements advocating reduction of the ‘carbon footprint’ and of ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions. The reason for coal’s expansion is simple enough – coal has become cheaper internationally since the US began increasing its use of its natural gas to reduce its own carbon emissions. So, rather than reducing coal usage world-wide, this has merely dumped US coal cheaply on the international market bringing down the price of coal everywhere.

It is arriving in big bulk carriers in Europe and because of this Russian coal has to become cheaper too, so coastwise traffics are also booming. At Hunterston, Brian Climie found transhipment of this transatlantic coal in full swing with CSL Clyde 4,783,’96 and Jolanta 3,621’99 loading for the Mersey and Belfast respectively. CSL Clyde’s principal run is to shuttle to Ellesmere Port to serve the big power stations nearby though she has also been to Belfast. The Maltese flag CSL Clyde was, until recently, Jebsens’ Clydenes and she is that rarity, a UK built bulk carrier - from Appledore - where she was delivered as the Arklow Bridge.

Her latest funnel colours – black top with white band above red - are obscured in this image, but give a clue as to whom her former Norwegian owners have sold her; to CSL Europe – a subsidiary of Montreal based Canada Steamship Lines. So US coal (and Colombian and Australian) is being distributed from a Scottish port to the Mersey, in a Canadian controlled Maltese flag vessel. Strange times we live in, but shipping has been strange for many years.

CSL, whose core operations have historically been on the Great Lakes, are for this reason, one of the world’s most experienced and largest owners of self unloaders. They have currently 19 large ‘Lakers’, but have also introduced sea going self unloading fleets in the US, Asia and Australasia. Jebsens were a ready made fleet with existing contracts, so the formation of CSL Europe with ten ex Jebsens vessels has suited both parties. CSL Clyde is one of the smaller units of the fleet.

CSL Clyde & JolantaMeanwhile, the Cyprus flag Jolanta seen here transhipping from Hunterston, is owned and managed in Estonia. No wonder Stevie Clarkes could not survive in this hugely competitive, multi-national and cut-throat trading environment.

Another fascinating twist in the revival of coal, and to rub salt in the wounds of Stevie Clarke in their former heartland, is the arrival on the Tyne of Aleksandr Suvorov 16,257,’79 of the Murmansk based fleet. Here she is bringing coals to Newcastle. But this is Russian coal from Norway – or is it Norwegian coal from a Russian mine? Whichever is the case, Russia has long had a concession to mine Norway’s only coal seams on Svalbard/Spitsbergen. As Norway doesn’t need the coal, being rich in oil, gas and hydro power, the UK is now, not only importing Norwegian oil and gas in huge quantities, but, is taking their coal too. It is within living memory that Norway would import many thousands of tons of coal from the UK and it is a historic change we are witnessing. The UK still has millions of tons of coal underground, but few mines are left since privatisation. Given the international competition lowering the price, there is little likelihood of those circumstances changing anytime soon.

Some UK coal fired stations are adding ‘biomass’ to their fuels and that too is mainly imported, so is good business for the ports. But does it make much environmental sense, if such freights travel around the globe, to reduce climate change? As far as I am aware, Workington is still exporting processed garbage to burn in a Latvian power plant - see Coastal Commentary September 12. You couldn’t make this stuff up!

More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - December 2012 Issue
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