Nifty, thrifty ships
Atlantic Container Line has long had a reputation for going its own way, one that looks to be enhanced with its order last month of five new combination container-roll-on/roll-off ships, or “con-ros.”
The company’s current con-ros, built in 1984, are the world’s largest. They have a capacity to carry 1,850 TEUs, 1,000 cars and have 18,500 square meters of floor space for oversize rolling cargoes.
The new ships, due for delivery in 2015, will be only slightly larger — four meters longer, 5.5 meters wider, and have about the same draft.
But amazingly, the new ships will have vastly more capacity: 3,800 TEUs, a 105 percent increase; 1,307 cars, a 31 percent increase; and 28,900 square meters for large ro-ro cargo, a 45 percent increase.
How is that possible? A clever design that the company said was the brainchild of Denmark’s International Maritime Advisors and adapted by the Danish naval architect Knud E. Hansen for Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding, the Shanghai yard that will build the ships.
ACL said “virtually all con-ro vessels today stow containers on deck and lighter ro-ro cargo underdeck. Because of the significant air space that naturally occurs on ro-ro decks compared to the denser stowage of containers, most of the weight rides high on a standard con-ro vessel, requiring a great deal of ballast for stability”— as much as 12,000 to 15,000 tons of water on the company’s current ships.
IMA developed the concept of putting all the ro-ro cargo mid-ships, along with the house and bridge and stowing the containers in cells fore and aft of the ro-ro section. With the new design containers can be stacked 14 instead of 11 high because with the bridge mid-ship, visibility improves. And the slightly increased beam will allow 13 instead of 12 rows of containers.
ACL was initially skeptical about the new design, but has embraced it. The containers replace the ballast with paying cargo and have a much more efficient use of vessel space.
Ro-ro cargo will be loaded using a ramp in the back of the ship, and will reach the appropriate decks via a tunnel through the container stacks in the aft portion of the ship.
Andrew Abbott, president and chief executive officer of ACL, said both the new car and ro-ro decks will be taller.
The car decks will go from 1.65 meters in height to 2.2 meters, reflecting the increase in popularity of minivans and SUVs since 1984.
The oversize ro-ro decks will increase in height from 6.2 meters to 7.4 meters and have fewer obstructions, giving greater flexibility in the cargo the ship can carry. “With these new ships, because they are so much larger, we are finally going to be able to take everything our regular customers have been offering us and that we have had to decline,” Abbott said.
The new ships will require fewer crew members, too — 16 compared to 21 today.
While the cruising speed will jump from 16.5 knots to 18 knots (and the maximum speed from 19 knots to 21 knots) the new ships will have better fuel consumption, burning just 70 tons of fuel per day compared to 75 tons currently. And with the increased carrying capacity, the company said that number of TEUs it can move with a ton of fuel will double from 41 TEUs per ton today to 82 TEUs per ton on the new ships.
Unusual among liner companies in carrying a mix of containers and ro-ro cargo, ACL’s con-ros also have a quirky rotation, calling not only giant ports like New York and Norfolk, but Baltimore and Halifax on this side of the Atlantic and Gothenburg and Liverpool in addition to the more common Antwerp and Hamburg in Europe.
Abbott said the new ships will be just small enough to fit the locks in Liverpool. “You’ve heard about ships being Panamax or Suezmax. These ships will be Liverpoolmax,” Abbott said.
By operating five ships instead of four, as most transatlantic carriers do, and double-calling ports, ACL is able to offer faster transit times than many of its competitors.
Abbott said with the new ships, however, the company will be making a rotation change, adding a port in the South Atlantic — Charleston, Savannah, or Jacksonville—and probably dropping another port in the United States or possibly in Europe so it can keep the same level of service.
Today ACL has about 4 percent of the non-military transatlantic container market. With the new ships, the company believes it can grow this to 9 percent.
In the ro-ro market, ACL says it’s the second largest in the transatlantic market with a 12 percent market share, compared to Wallenius Wilhelmsen’s 59 percent share. ACL believes it will be able to grow that to 18 percent. ACL currently charters its car decks to Wallenius Wilhelmsen and Abbott said he would like to see the relationship between the companies continue.
ACL charters space on ships operated by other carriers, such as Hapag Lloyd, which broadens the service it offers to additional ports.
Abbott said the company will probably charter even more space, expanding its services to additional ports in the U.S. Gulf beyond Houston and beyond Halifax to Montreal.
He also said ACL, which was acquired by Italy’s Grimaldi Group in 2001, has consistently been among the five most profitable carriers since 1994. He said the carrier was “very profitable last year and we are going to be reasonably profitable this year.” (Chris Dupin)