How Much Oil is on That Ship?
By Doug Helton
Like many people with an interest in the maritime industry, I’ve been following the story of the huge container ship CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin that recently visited Seattle’s port.
The news stories about it were full of superlatives. It was the largest cargo vessel to visit the United States, measuring 1,310 feet in length, or longer than the height of two Space Needles.
This massive ship can carry 18,000 shipping containers. That is more than double the cargo of most container ships calling on the Port of Seattle. Loaded on a train (and most of them will be) those containers would stretch more than 68 miles, or the distance from Tacoma, Washington, to Everett.
Considering this ship’s massive size made me wonder how much fuel is on board. After some research, I found out: about 4.5 million gallons. That makes it just a bit bigger than my sailboat which holds only 20 gallons of fuel.
Understanding the potential volumes of oil (either as fuel or cargo) carried on ships is a major consideration in spill response planning.
All tank vessels (tankers and barges) and all non-tank vessels (freighters, cruise ships, etc.) larger than 400 gross tons have to have vessel response plans. Key metrics in those plans include listing the maximum amount of oil that could be spilled (known as the worst case discharge) and the maximum most probable discharge, which, for non-tank vessels, is generally defined as 10 percent of the vessel’s total fuel capacity.
What about other types of vessels? How much oil in the form of fuel or cargo do they typically carry?
Here are some approximate numbers, many of which are pulled from a Washington State Department of Ecology report:
Small speedboat (12–20 feet): 6–20 gallons
Sailing yacht (33–45 feet): 30–120 gallons
Motor yacht (40–60 feet): 200–1,200 gallons
Large tanker truck: 5,000–10,000 gallons
Small tugboat (30–60 feet): 1,500–25,000 gallons
Petroleum rail car: 30,000 gallons
Boeing 747 airplane: 50,000–60,000 gallons
Ocean-going tugboat (90–150 feet): 90,000–190,000 gallons
Puget Sound jumbo ferry (440 feet): 130,000 gallons
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s yacht M/V Octopus (416 feet): 224,000 gallons
Bulk carrier of commodities such as grain or coal (500–700 feet): 400,000–800,000 gallons
Large cruise ship (900–1,100 feet): 1–2 million gallons
Inland tank barge (200–300 feet): 400,000–1.2 million gallons
Panamax container ship (960 feet): 1.5–2 million gallons
Container ship Benjamin Franklin (1,310 feet): 4.5 million gallons
Ocean-going tank barge (550–750 feet): 7 million–14 million gallons
Exxon Valdez and similar large oil tankers (987 feet): 55 million gallons
Thanks to developing technologies, such “mega-vessels” as the Benjamin Franklin appear to be on the rise, a trend we’re watching along with the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation and University of Washington.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.