A 35,000 TEU Container Ship?
A research consortium that includes GTT, CMA-CGM and DNV GL recently unveiled the design schematic of Combined Gas Turbine and Steam (COGAS) powered mega-size 20,000 TEU container ship to be fueled by LNG.
A future research concept could include an articulated or coupled two-unit container ship to operate major Asian – European trade routes. The rear section of such a concept ship could be loaded at the Port of Shanghai while the forward section would be loaded at the Port of Hong Kong after the rear section has sailed from Shanghai, with the two-unit European bound ship-train being coupled at Hong Kong.
The articulation coupling would be designed to allow the trailing vessel to sail in the hydraulic “shadow” of the leading vessel to reduce the fuel consumption of the trailing vessel by 70 to 80 percent. While the power of two engine systems would be required to accelerate the coupled ship, energy consumption would decline as the coupled maritime assembly reaches its cruising speed, perhaps allowing the output of a single engine assembly to provide 100 percent of propulsive power as well as auxiliary power. Power cables and a telecommunications line would connect across the articulation between the two units.
While at cruise, computer-controlled electrically-powered propellers (azipods) on both leading and trailing sections would provide both propulsion as well as directional control, allowing the design of the articulation coupling to include flexibility for relative pitching motions, relative yawing motions and even relative rolling motions. Manpower cost and fuel cost are the dominant cost items when a ship sails at sea and a coupled-articulated container ship would offer substantial savings in terms of transportation cost per container while sailing between pairs of nearby super-ports at the Asian and European ends of the voyage.
Pairs of Ports
There are several pairs of Asian major super-ports that are located within relatively close proximity to each other as well as a pair of major European super-ports at Hamburg and the Netherlands. Several of these ports also serve as maritime – maritime transshipment ports where local, inland and coastal vessels interline with mega-size oceanic vessels. The mega-terminal at Port of Colombo, Sri Lanka serves the container transshipment needs of several nations that include Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Western Thailand while the Port of Singapore can serve the transshipment requirements for nations that include Malaysia, Indonesia, Kampuchea, Vietnam and the Philippines.
The rear section of a two-unit ship train could sail from Singapore to Colombo within 72 hours, Taipei to Hong Kong within 36 hours, Busan to Shanghai within 24 hours or Hamburg to Rotterdam within 24 hours. The major section of the voyage would involve greatly extended distances that allow a two-unit ship-train to realize savings in terms of manpower and fuel consumption. Coupled super-size container ships would have to sail via the Suez Canal to European ports as well as to a possible east coast North American super port, the proposed Nicaragua Canal perhaps being unsuited to transit ship-trains.
Local Maritime Connections
The future prospect of two-unit mega ships carrying in excess of 35,000 TEU sailing extended voyages and connecting pairs of nearby super-ports at points of origin and destination would place high demand for service on local interconnecting maritime services. Several studies undertaken in the United States indicated that on container loads exceeding 500 TEU that coastal maritime service and inland waterway maritime service realized lower transportation cost per container. Europe’s barge canal system connects to several major ports that include Hamburg and Rotterdam while navigable rivers connect to the Chinese ports of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tianjin.
Major navigable rivers extend inland into Pakistan (Indus), India (Ganges), Thailand (Pa Sak), Bangladesh (Brahmaputra), Vietnam/Kampuchea (Mekong) and Myanmar (Irrawaddy) to allow river vessels to interline with coastal ships that will in turn connect to major super ports. A two-unit mega ship arriving at a super port along North America’s east coast could place new emphasis on that region’s coastal ship services with potential to greatly increase the volumes of container traffic shipped along the St Lawrence Seaway. Future summer melting of ice on the deep-draft Canadian side of Arctic could open a northern passage for two-unit super ships.
The development of LNG fueled thermo-electric propulsion for a mega size of container ship provides a basis to develop a two-unit coupled version of such a ship. Several major European super ports that serve mega size container ships are already located within close proximity to each other as are several Asian super ports. Most of these ports are already served by interconnecting local and regional coastal ship services and some ports connect to navigable inland waterways. The equivalent of a logistical super structure already exists that can allow for the introduction of two-unit super ships to container service.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.