Natural gas, which was brought to Germany by ship, has been flowing into the German pipeline network for the first time since Wednesday. The terminal ship "Höegh Esperanza" of the Norwegian shipping company Höegh started work at the newly built pier in Wilhelmshaven.
The ship is a so-called Floating Storage and Regasification Unit (FSRU). These systems can bring liquefied natural gas (LNG), which has been frozen to minus 164 degrees, back into a gaseous state, after which it is fed into the grid. The “Höegh Esperanza” had brought an initial load of LNG to Germany in its tanks, and in future the liquefied gas will regularly come to Wilhelmshaven with other tankers. Floating import terminals will also soon go into operation in Lubmin and Brunsbüttel.
After its attack on Ukraine, Russia stopped supplying natural gas to Germany, among other places, this summer. In Germany, there is now a shortage of 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas, with a total annual requirement of around 100 billion cubic meters. A large part of Russian natural gas is to be replaced as quickly as possible by using floating import terminals and, from the middle of the decade, also by stationary LNG terminals in Wilhelmshaven, Stade and Brunsbüttel.
For the German ports, for the maritime economy and the authorities in Germany, the import of LNG is completely new, so far there is no local experience with it or standards for it. The German Maritime Center (DMZ) in Hamburg, which is mainly financed by the Federal Ministry of Transport, is building a platform to network all stakeholders.
"We want to create a platform for everyone involved in refueling and unloading, on which shipowners, bunker suppliers and approval authorities can organize the entire exchange of information, documents and approvals," said Claus Brandt, Managing Director of the DMZ der WELT. "For example, shipping companies could also store permits there that they have already received in other ports, so that they don't have to start from scratch again and again during the approval process."
From Brandt's point of view, close cooperation between the LNG terminal operators, the shipping companies and the gas importers in the ports involved makes sense in the current situation: "Precisely because the ship calls with the LNG deliveries will also come to Germany via the short-term, so-called spot market. If, for example, such a tanker load cannot land in Wilhelmshaven at short notice because the terminal there is occupied by another LNG ship, it would make sense and be desirable to be able to quickly divert the load to another location.”
The federal structure in Germany initially complicates the development of the new LNG market. In Germany, legislation on the loading and unloading of tankers is a matter for the federal states, says Brandt, which is why it cannot be uniform. Where it is possible and sensible, the regulations of the countries must be harmonized more: “Every seaport has its own regulations. If a ship wants to bunker LNG in Emden and Bremerhaven, two separate permits from the responsible port and state authorities are required. The same also applies to the unloading of LNG in Germany, which is now beginning, although no new permit is required if LNG is repeatedly unloaded from the same ship.”
For its platform, the DMZ also looked at the experiences with the stationary LNG terminals in Zeegrügge in Belgium and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. "Each port has a unique location and therefore has its own safety requirements, for example the minimum distances to LNG tankers," says Brandt. In Zeebrugge, for example, there is a minimum distance of 360 meters from other ships to an LNG tanker at the pier and there is a ban on entry and exit when a loaded LNG tanker arrives.