Weather Routing Helps Shipping Industry Navigation

IMO 2020 came into effect on 1 January 2020, resulting in a new 0.5% global sulfur cap for marine fuels. It’s expected that approximately 2.5 million barrels of low sulfur fuel will be required. Analysts estimate compliance with the regulation will add $60 billion in costs for the shipping industry, primarily driven by expected increases in fuel costs and modifications required to make vessels IMO 2020 compliant.

Sailing the shortest distance between two ports isn’t always the quickest or most fuel-efficient route. Instead, forward-thinking charterers, owners and vessel managers use accurate weather data to optimize their routes based on the KPIs of the voyage – fuel consumption, ETAs, and other charter-party conditions, while ensuring the safety of crew and cargo.

Many shipping companies are using accurate weather routing to support their overall approach to IMO 2020 compliance. Weather routing helps to optimize fuel consumption and improve operational efficiency; both are essential to solve the challenges IMO 2020 presents. Let’s evaluate in more detail how weather routing helps by looking at the three key benefits.

1. Reduce fuel consumption

Weather routing can help shipping companies to save between 2% – 5% in fuel costs – depending on the type of ship, the time of year, and the weather conditions. If the bunker price is $500/ton, a ship burning 50 tons of fuel each day could save $8750 on a seven-day voyage through lower fuel costs.

2. Support effective speed reductions

Faster speeds use more fuel and produce more harmful emissions. Ships can reduce emissions by up to 55% through a combination of methods related to reduced fuel consumption. Specific techniques, like speed reduction and weather routing, can reduce emissions by 17% – 34% and 1% – 4% respectively and save up to $300 per ton CO2.

Reducing fuel consumption through speed reduction does have limitations, as time is always a key consideration for shipping. However, full knowledge of circumstances can allow a vessel to slow down. For example, if adverse weather at a terminal means it cannot handle the cargo, relaying this information to the captain means they can reduce the speed and arrive when the port reopens. Otherwise, the vessel waits outside port until the weather improves, having used fuel unnecessarily to reach the destination on time. The same can also apply if the lay days and the canceling clause in a charter party allow.

3. Maintain operational efficiency

Optimized weather routing, either deployed onboard or operated onshore, ensures that reductions in speed and efforts to manage fuel consumption do not lead to problems with operational efficiency.

Whether the priority is to meet an ETC, uphold a charter party agreement, or to keep fuel costs down, weather routing takes the KPIs of the voyage into account to ensure a balance between these often conflicting operational priorities.

The risks of not using accurate weather routing to support compliance

Optimum ship routing is the art and science of developing the “best route” for a ship based on the current weather forecasts, ship characteristics, and cargo requirements. Not using accurate weather routing, results in:

  • Unoptimized routes, resulting in unnecessary fuel consumption
  • Increase in emissions, caused by using more fuel
  • Increased risks of not meeting the KPIs of the voyage, including costs and ETAs, due to adverse weather

The goal of weather routing is not to avoid all adverse weather but to find the best balance. It’s about minimizing the time of transit and fuel consumption, without placing the vessel at risk. The savings in operational costs come about by reducing transit times, reducing fuel consumption, and minimizing cargo and hull damage.