TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico completed the first liquefied natural gas bunkering of its new containership Isla Bella at Jacksonville, Fla., on Jan. 9, marking an official entrance of the new fuel into the Caribbean cargo trade.

The Isla Bella and sister ship Perla del Caribe are two 764’ Marlin-class container ships, the world’s first built to operate on LNG fuel, delivered to the TOTE group last year by the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego. Built for the Jacksonville-San Juan, Puerto Rico route, the ships were underwritten with a $324.6 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Maritime Administration – an indicator of the agency’s keen interest in promoting new propulsion technologies with lower emissions and domestic fuel sources. 

Last Saturday, a dozen LNG ISO containers owned by TOTE came to the Isla Bella’s pier for the bunkering operations, under close oversight from Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville as the ship was also undergoing cargo operations, TOTE officials said in a statement.

LNG bunker trucks. TOTE photo.The fuel transferred from the ISO tank containers using a specially developed transfer skid developed by TOTE’s partner Applied Cryogenics Technologies (ACT) of Houston. It is the first company to market this kind of transfer skid, which allows four ISO tanks to be transferred to the ship at the same time, “dramatically reducing transfer time,” TOTE said.

TOTE’s local partner JAX LNG, LLC, sourced the fuel from the AGL Resources production facility in Macon, Ga. Genox Transportation, a specialized LNG trucking partner of TOTE, transported the fuel to Jacksonville. Pivotal LNG, a subsidiary of AGL Resources, also provided transfer expertise to TOTE Maritime with its highly trained LNG experts, to ensure the operation was conducted safely and in accordance with best industry practices.

Overall, the operation was supervised by TOTE Services, Inc (TSI), TOTE Maritime’s sister company that manages the vessels.

The Coast Guard is closely following the progress of TOTE and other maritime LNG users pioneering the new fuel. The Coast Guard hosted a December workshop in Houston that brought together industry and safety experts, and this week the service’s Liquefied Gas Carrier National Center of Expertise released new recommendations

“We are very pleased with the results of this initial LNG bunker event and know that the use of LNG in our Marlin class vessels will provide unprecedented environmental benefits both here in Jacksonville and in Puerto Rico,” Tim Nolan, president of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, said in a prepared statement.

“We are indebted to USCG Sector Jacksonville for their diligent oversight and assistance that was invaluable and helped make this event a success,” Nolan said. “Our partners ACT, Pivotal LNG and Genox were also major components of our success. Our sister company, TSI, has developed significant expertise in LNG as a Maritime fuel and ensures that our vessels operate safely and efficiently using this environmentally superior fuel.”

The Isla Bella and Perla del Caribe will serve the same Sea Star Line as El Faro, the 790’ TOTE ship lost Oct. 1 with all 33 crew in Hurricane Joaquin. The disaster set back TOTE plans for expanding use of LNG in the Pacific Northwest. With the arrival of new ships in Jacksonville, the El Faro was to have transferred to the company’s Tacoma, Wash., to Anchorage, Alaska route, freeing up another ship for a dual-fuel LNG conversion.