Shipping gasification guru is not willing to retire
After almost half a century of career, mostly at ABS, Raffaele Piciocchi is still passionate about LNG and CNG projects, starting from Probunkers’ ambitious project
The 75-year old ABS American Bureau of Shipping top manager Raffaele Piciocchi recently retired. Having graduated in Naval Engineering at the University of Genoa, he started his career at the Genoese branch of the American classification register, spending most of his career abroad (Greece, Korea, Singapore).
About his 48-year experience, Piciocchi likes to remember the Greek period (March 2012 – January 2019), which provided the greatest satisfactions as he dealt with the shipping world’s leaders.
“In fact, the Kallithea office is the ABS’ most important office in Europe, although the London one ranks first hierarchically. I supported Greek shipowners. Our office was well known for gas applications, whether LNG, LPG or dual fuel, up to CNG”, Piciocchi recalled.
Registers must enact regulations based on the latest technological achievements in order to discipline new construction and shipping subjects. In fact, in this segment which, unlike the more traditional shipping sectors, is not fully explored, many shipowners are regarded as “newcomers” because only a few of them are able to invest the large amounts required by the segment to achieve essential economies of scale in an industry implying high economic and safety risk. Consider only the necessary efforts to change from gaseous to liquid state in order to transport it by ship, and then to regasify it; this double procedure is very demanding”.
Piciocchi dealt with very important brands such as Angelicoussis’ Marangas, Livanos’ Gaslog, Procopiou’s Dynagas, to mention a few. Having started at ABS in 1971, he moved to Korea and in 1996 he started his 6-year period at RINA, when it was headed by Squassafichi-Pattofatto. “As they planned to merge the Italian and French registers, I was entrusted with the drawing up of the new regulations, in cooperation with my BV French colleagues. We formed a team of 20 people – headed by Roberto Cazzulo for the Italian classification society – to prepare regulations. In 2003 ABS asked me to go back to Korea and to create a team of 35 gas surveyors”.
As this required technical skills, Piciocchi was entrusted with training qualified personnel.
“I became a training specialist, providing training not only to our employees, but also to those of shipping companies that were our customers, as well as to the US Coast Guard and to multinational shipping companies: AP Moeller Maersk, Chevron, Oman Shipping etc…I trained at least 1,500 employees providing 5-days full immersion courses”.
Thanks to its fame acquired in specialized personnel training, ABS became the first register in the LNG sector worldwide, evaluating the number of new orders. Meanwhile, Piciocchi was called by the Singapore Academy, ABS’ personnel training school in the Lion city-state having jurisdiction across Asia.
“I held my last course last October in Oslo, where I was invited by ABS Norway Country Manager, in the offices of a Norwegian shipowner who is planning to enter the LNG sector and wanted his superintendents to get acquainted with the problems related to LNG transport and with the available technologies”, the teacher explained.
“My actual experience started with the few gas carriers we had in Italy 30-40 years ago: SNAM’s two units, and Fincantieri’s 60,000 cm newbuildings LNG Lerici and LNG Portovenere, dating back to the beginning of the nineties, following the complete stop of the Italian fleet in the eighties, although the first Italian gas carries, also LPG, date back to the end of the sixties.
At those times there were two main French companies, which merged into GTT GazTransport & Technigaz, and part of that technology is still the same today. They asked me to organize courses at Fincantieri, CETENA and SNAM, inviting two French GTT managers in Genoa”.
As concerns current developments, Piciocchi agrees that all the stakeholders are legitimately optimistic about LNG’s future: “There is a great collective interest, although we still do not know the extent of the expansion rate. What we do know is that Greek shipowners are always the first ones to invest in new challenges. For instance, Angelicoussis was the first one to place an order for a large gas carrier with the Korean shipyard Daewoo and, after having entrusted the classification of this first unit to the Lloyd’s Register, he made a diplomatic move by entrusting its subsequent sister ships to DNV and ABS to make everyone happy.
However, so far, the only country with a specialized fleet is Japan.
In Italy, Fincantieri is thinking about the CNG project as compressed natural gas does not require the double transformation from gas to liquid state and vice versa. Therefore, it seems to be a favourable solution, although building these ships – which are also very “heavy”, thus difficult and onerous to be moved – is very expensive. As far as I know, there is only one operational CNG ship, it is small, and it is deployed in China. It was built to provide services between two Indonesian islands, but when it was complete, one year ago, infrastructures were not ready yet, therefore we do not know whether it actually entered into operation”.
Piciocchi remembers with admiration the 85 years old Greek engineer Sarianidis, former ABS Country Manager in Greece, who is currently concentrating all his efforts on the CNG project.
“The problem is also finding a shipyard willing to face this challenge.
Both ENI and Trieste-based Navaltecnica are taking this innovative technological solution into consideration. In my opinion, the future will depend on small and middle scale. At present, energy supplies are mostly based on a transhipment scheme (already used for containers, ed.) with mother ships operating on oceanic routes and feeder vessels deployed for local distribution”.
Piciocchi emphasized the recent recovery of the business plan of the Greek company Probunkers, a bunkering operator aiming at becoming a shipping company and at deploying 7 dual fuel propulsion ships, i.e. small 100 meters units with an 8,000 cm capacity and a unitary cost of 25-30 million UDS, by 2022. Each unit will be able to serve a hub port in the world which should become a regional supply station: Houston, Algeciras (or Gibraltar), Rotterdam (or Antwerp), Fujairah, Busan, Singapore and Hong Kong.
To that end, Probunkers – headed by Yannoulis-Prokopakis-Hassiotis – is looking for a shipbuilder willing to bet on this project.
“At the last Posidonia exhibition in June 2018 they announced significant developments in the initiative, and in February they will probably choose the shipyard to place their order with, although they still have not revealed whether they will entrust works to a designer or to the technical office of a shipyard”, Piciocchi concluded, hoping in a positive outcome for the negotiations. In fact, the LNG guru – as the Greek shipping newspaper Elnavi nicknamed him in 2012 – seems to be ready to provide his services to newcomers and shipowners.
“With Probunkers, ABS had developed a Joint Development Project (JDP). When CEO Alexander Prokopakis and Probunkers (as well as Ocean King) Chairman Panos Yannoulis asked us to carry out a study about current transport technologies, marine use and LNG transfer from one ship to another for bunkering purposes, I suggested to invite them to take part in the JDP, and they accepted, providing a total investment of over 300 million Euro (343 million USD)”.
According to recent sources, Probunkers – incorporated in 2011 in Cyprus, before opening another office in the Piraeus – obtained significant moral support from the Greek shipping community, so much so that it relaunched the project placing an order for 10 high-tech “super-barges”, plus another 10 units in option.