AP Moller-Maersk — the methanol first-mover in the container ship sector — is poised to order a series of 16,000-teu newbuildings that could cost more than $2.2bn.

The Danish shipping giant made headlines last year by being the first liner company to invest in methanol dual-fuelled boxship newbuildings. It is now said to be looking to order up to a dozen 16,000-teu vessels, doubling the orderbook of neo-panamax ships to 24.

Shipbuilding sources said South Korea’s three major shipyards — Hyundai Heavy Industries, Samsung Heavy Industries and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering — have been contacted by Maersk for the newbuildings.

Officials at the three shipyards declined to comment on their company’s shipbuilding activities, citing contract confidentiality.

A spokesperson at Maersk said the company does not comment on market rumours when asked about the additional 12-ship order.

“As [a] global operator of more than 700 vessels, AP Moller-Maersk is continuously reviewing the fleet composition to ensure it matches current and future operational requirements,” Maersk said. “This includes reviews and evaluation of the opportunities to charter from third parties, purchase or sell vessels, as well as ordering of newbuildings.

“Continued capex [capital expenditure] discipline remains a key focus area for Maersk. We further reiterate our focus on disciplined, active capacity management and maintaining a fleet capacity in the 4m to 4.3m-teu range, as a combination of Maersk-managed and time-chartered vessels.”

With continued rising material and labour costs, shipbuilding sources said Maersk’s latest 12 newbuildings will be 5% to 10% more expensive than those it ordered last summer, which were priced at $175m apiece.

The new vessels are estimated to cost more than $183m per ship.

Sources said Maersk’s latest newbuilding enquiries comprise six to eight firm vessels, with the rest being optional units.

“It mirrors last year’s order when the company inked eight firm vessels in August and exercised the optional four ships early this year,” one market source said.

Ulsan-based HHI was contracted to build the methanol-fuelled 16,000-teu newbuildings and is scheduled to deliver them between early 2024 and mid-2025.

Shipbuilding sources think Maersk will need to wait until the end of 2025 or 2026 to take delivery of the second batch of methanol dual-fuel newbuildings since South Korean shipyards have sold out most of their 2025 slots.

During a webinar in May, Maersk head of decarbonisation Morten Bo Christiansen said the company is not going to build any more ships that cannot sail on green fuels. It deemed methanol to be the most practical green fuel solution at present and has provisional supply deals with several providers.

This includes a provisional agreement with Danish energy company Orsted for an e-methanol project in the US with capacity of 300,000 tonnes per year from 2025.

Maersk has set an ambitious net-zero emissions target for 2040 across the entire business. This includes a 2030 milestone target of transporting 25% of its cargo volumes on green fuels and a principle of only ordering newbuildings that can be operated on these green fuels.

The company said retrofit of existing vessels to enable green methanol operations remains an important part of its toolbox to deliver on the firm’s emissions targets.

Leading from the front: The new Maersk methanol boxship design, with the bridge and crew area at the bow Photo: AP Moller-Maersk