Naeem Ashgar, captain of the 2017 Murex ship
Naeem Ashgar was inspired by his father and has risen through the ranks to captain the Murex

Sailing his new ship across the Philippine Sea towards China, Naeem Ashgar feels a sense of nostalgia and pride. Ever since he was a child growing up in Pakistan, the captain longed to follow in the wake of his father, an engineer in the merchant navy.

"We would receive letters and photos from different parts of the world and I always dreamt of seeing it like my father," Captain Ashgar says from aboard his voyage from Australia to China.

"I was also inspired to become a sailor by explorers like Christopher Columbus and their great adventures."

The ship he now captains has been named the Murex. It marks 125 years since Shell's first bulk oil tanker, named after the shell of the Murex sea snail, first delivered kerosene to Asia.

That historic voyage, from Azerbaijan to Thailand in 1892, helped drive a revolution in global trade because transporting oil in large tanks, rather than in thousands of barrels, made fuel more affordable.

Towards a cleaner future

In the late 19th century, the kerosene carried by the original Murex was in demand because it produced bright light with less smoke than burning candles or oil-soaked rags.

Today, Ashgar and his crew are delivering liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is increasingly in demand for lighting, heating and cooking because it produces far less smoke than burning coal or wood.

"It's an honour to captain the new LNG Murex today," Ashgar, now 50, says. "The thought that our cargo could help people in China breathe more easily this winter gives me and my crew a real sense of purpose."

The highly fuel-efficient ship, which can run on diesel or natural gas, left South Korea for its maiden voyage in November 2017.

It sailed south across the Philippine Sea, weaving between the islands of Papua New Guinea before arriving at the QGC gas facility on the north-east coast of Australia.

After carefully preparing the vessel for its first shipment, Ashgar and his crew left the shores of Queensland behind and set a course for the coast of China.

Wave of investment

Australia is now one of the world's largest LNG suppliers, second only to Qatar, thanks to a wave of investment in facilities to cool gas to liquid form for safe shipping to consumers. Australia's LNG exports typically head north to Japan, South Korea or China.

These tankers deliver gas for power stations, industries and homes. Cleaner-burning natural gas helps countries to use less coal, which improves local air quality while helping to reduce emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide (CO2).

This is because gas produces around half the CO2 and just one tenth of the air pollutants of coal when burnt to generate electricity.

"The gas that ships like Murex deliver is helping to reduce pollution in towns and cities around the world," says Grahaeme Henderson, Shell's Vice President for Shipping and Maritime.

Ashgar delivered the Murex’s first cargo of LNG to the port of Ningbo, China in December 2017.

By Daniel Fineren

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