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PCTC Flexibility Wins Out

Published Aug 24, 2015 5:23 PM by Wendy Laursen

Conventional deepsea ro-ro vessels are fading from importance largely due to global economic development in, for example, the nations of Africa. The contraction of this market has been balanced by a rise in pure care and truck carrier (PCTC) orders, including the largest one built to date.

Conventional ro-ro vessel does not need extensive shoreside handling facilities, making them ideal ship for serving the developing world. Their often heavy-duty ramps also allow heavy and other project cargoes to be rolled on and off the ship. Basically every kind of cargo can be put on wheel, using different types of chassis. Therefore, they can be used for cars, trucks, high and heavy cargo, special product cargo and the transport of steel or paper.

However, as port, terminal and hinterland infrastructure develops around the world, the ability to operate without significant shore-side equipment is not as important as it was. 

This is obvious in West Africa, until fairly recently one of the more popular ro-ro trades, reports shipping analyst Dynamar based in The Netherlands. Operators such as Delmas (CMA CGM) and NileDutch now completely focus on box ships in the region after having operated ro-ros for many years.

Just a few operators, Bahri, Grimaldi (including subsidiary ACL), Messina and Nordana have been responsible for most (24) of the conventional (deepsea) ro-ros ordered during the last five years, says Dynamar. The global fleet declined has by nearly six percent over that time.

Where the conventional deepsea ro-ro fleet has shrunk by nearly 100 units over the last five years, the number of vehicle carriers has increased by 40 ships. This equates to a growth rate of three percent per year over the last five years.

More than just cars

Conventional ro-ro vessels and vehicle carriers both have ramps and both carry cars and high and heavy cargo, an industry term for such rolling stock as buses, trucks and agricultural machinery, as well as road building and construction equipment.

However, while automobiles are a vehicle carrier’s base cargo, the conventional ro-ro vessel is basically a breakbulk-ship-extra, says Dynamar, for which cars is just one of the many different cargoes carried. The modern PCTC is a specialist, ungeared vehicle carrier with multiple decks, in part adjustable for flexible clearance and reinforced to handle heavier loads. For some of the PCTC operators, other-than-car cargoes make up for up to 50 percent of their overall income.

More orders in 2015

This year has seen further PCTC orders including a K Line vessel that will carry railcars to the U.K. A series of K Line's 7500-unit size ro-ro vessels are now under construction in Japan. Some of these vessels from the order of 10 will be deployed into this Japan – Europe trade, which the company expects to grow. The new vessels will also give K Line an increased car-carrying capacity of 20 percent as well as much more space for high and heavy cargo, including construction machinery. 

In July, Grmaldi signed an agreement for the construction of three new PCTCs with the shipyard Jinling of China. With delivery expected in 2017, the new vessels will be deployed on the group’s regular service linking the Mediterranean with North America. This service is mainly dedicated to the transport of brand new vehicles produced by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles destined for U.S. and Canadian markets. The order follows another in June for the construction of five new PCTCs at Chinese shipyard Yangfan. The vessels, also expected by 2017, will be deployed on the same route. 

Höegh Target, named in June, is the first in a series of six Post Panamax vessels that Höegh Autoliners will take delivery of in the next 18 months. With its deck space of 71,400 square meters and carrying capacity of 8,500 car equivalent units, the vessel is the world’s largest PCTC. The vessel also has a higher door opening than Höegh Autoliners’ current vessels, enabling cargo up to 6.5 meters high and 12 meters wide to be loaded. Extra ramp strength allows for cargo weighing up to 375 tons to be loaded over the stern ramp and 22 tons over the side ramp.

In contrast to the PCTC news, investment in newbuilds for the deepsea ro-ro segment remains slow.