75 years of ship design

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The famous Danish naval architecture consultancy KNUD E. HANSEN A/S has been in business for 75 years, and has produced many well known ships.


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KNUD E. HANSEN A/S: 75 Years of Ship Design

Bruce Peter 16.08.12 

On 1 November this year, the famous Danish naval architecture consultancy KNUD E. HANSEN A/S will celebrate their 75th anniversary. In the decades since their establishment in 1937, they are reckoned to have designed over 650 large merchant ships plus an equal number that never progressed beyond the planning stage, produced over 400 hull lines for model testing, designed and supervised more than 225 conversions and undertaken well over 1,000 surveys. Their clients have included most of the world’s best-known shipyards and shipping companies. Yet, for many ship enthusiasts, their name may be unfamiliar. 

Born in Denmark in 1900, Knud Emil Thorvald Henning Hansen was an energetic and refined gentleman with an inquisitive mind. He was the son of a skipper of coastal sailing ships, and so the sea was in his blood from the outset. Hansen studied naval architecture at the Polyteknisk Læreanstalt in Copenhagen. Upon graduation in 1925, he gained experience in shipbuilding by working in a number of yards in Denmark and abroad, initially at Københavns Flydedok & Skibsværft. Thereafter, he travelled to Britain and to The Netherlands to find out about ship design practices in these countries. From 1927 until 1929, he worked in the drawing office of Burmeister & Wain in Copenhagen before he joined the staff of the Helsingør Jernskibs og Maskinbyggeri, where he remained until 1937.  

From boyhood, Hansen had a passion for ships and the sea. He was particularly interested in traditional Nordic craft such as Baltic schooners, fishing cutters and Viking longships and he thought that their designs embodied lessons for latter day naval architects. For Hansen, naval architecture was not simply an engineering discipline. Instead, he believed that to design a ship was to take part in the furtherance of a Nordic cultural inheritance dating back many centuries. Indeed, the KNUD E. HANSEN A/S logo was (and remains) a Viking longship. 

On being appointed to the Helsingør Jernskibs og Maskinbyggeri, the first significant passenger ship design in which Hansen was involved was the Det Bergenske Dampskipsselskap’s Venus, a sturdy 6,269 gt motor vessel intended for North Sea service between Bergen and Newcastle.  Upon completion in 1931, she was the largest of her type trading on the North Sea and her two Burmeister & Wain diesels gave her a service speed of nineteen knots.  With intense competition from Swedish Lloyd’s Gothenburg – Tilbury route, speed was very important and the Venus was one of the fastest motor ships of her era. Her performance reduced the passage time from 27 hours to 21 hours.   

Almost from the outset of his career, Knud E. Hansen was involved in short sea ferry design. Helsingør Jernskibs og Maskinbyggeri built most of the Danish State Railway, DSB’s train ferries and, although much of their planning was carried out elsewhere, he was involved in their detailed design. He was a prodigious worker who, out with office hours, began to take on private commissions to design vessels on a freelance basis. His first such project was in 1935 when he produced plans for a small excursion motor vessel, the 527 gt Sankt Ibb, which was built at Frederikshavn Værft og Flydedok A/S for the Dampskibsselskabet Øresund’s passenger only service across the Øresund between Copenhagen, Helsingborg and Mölle in Sweden. 

DSB realised that car ferries represented a growing market – even though their loyalty was still to rail-connected shipping services. They decided therefore to order a new multi-purpose ferry principally to carry cars across the Great Belt, but with one track for trains (which was rarely used). Hansen designed this innovative new vessel which was named the Freia. Aalborg Værft built her hull, then she was outfitted in Helsingør. Her career was lengthy; she served in the DSB fleet until 1975, then passed to Italian owners to operate across the Bay of Naples as the Ischia Express, only being withdrawn in 2007 by which time her hull was over 70 years old.    

Hansen’s next major project was for DFDS, who wanted a new overnight passenger liner for their Copenhagen-Oslo service. The Kronprins Olav was a highly advanced motor ship with a strikingly modern streamlined silhouette and very progressive interiors, designed by the architect Kay Fisker. While she was under construction, Hansen decided to establish his own naval architecture consultancy to provide general arrangement drawings and lines plans to any shipyard or owner who approached him.  

His first client was a newly established ferry operator, Larvik-Frederikshavn Fergen, who planned to open a route across the Kattegat from Norway to Denmark. Owned by a consortium of bus operators, they desired a drive-through ferry with enough free height for commercial vehicles, much like DSB’s Freia. Hansen’s design for the Peter Wessel, built by Aalborg Værft and also completed in 1937, was revolutionary. She was the first major drive-through vessel for road vehicles in international service and she set the pattern for nearly all North European ferries built since.  

As well as ferries, Hansen designed several outstanding motor cargo vessels – initially for J. Lauritzen, whose dynamic owners, the brothers Ivar and Knud Lauritzen, were expanding their tramping, liner and reefer fleets. Hansen planned the American Reefer and Australian Reefer, delivered from Nakskov Skibsværft in 1937 and using a hull form similar to the Kronprins Olav. They were followed by the Helsingør-built Indian Reefer in 1939, then the Argentinean Reefer from Aalborg Værft in 1941.  Hansen also drew plans for the broadly similar Nora, a 2,937 gt general cargo liner, completed in Aalborg for J. Lauritzen’s West Coast Line service, a cross-trading operation linking ports on the Pacific Seaboard of North and South America.  

During the difficult war years when Denmark was under German occupation, work was scarce. Hansen did however assist DSB in planning ferries for a projected service across the Fehmarn Belt from Rødby to Puttgarten, which never progressed beyond the outline planning stage. By the latter-1940s, however, shipbuilding was back in full swing as wartime losses urgently needed replacing. In the decades to follow, Hansen’s practice expanded considerably and, during the 1950s, numerous cargo vessels, tankers, fishing trawlers and ferries of all sizes were designed. To cope with this expanded output, Hansen moved his business to a large five-storey building in Copenhagen’s Bredgade and employed several assistants. His most important new staff members were Svend A. Bertelsen, Gerhard Erichs, Dag Rogne, Poul Erik Rasmussen and Tage Wandborg. Bertelsen and Erichs were experts at calculations while Erichs additionally oversaw most of the cargo liner projects. Rogne, who was Norwegian, began in the section dealing with steel construction drawings, subsequently becoming a leading designer of ferries. Rasmussen’s great expertise was in hydrodynamic design, devising and testing hull lines. Later in his career, his research work in to more effective types of bulbous bow, sponsons and aft-body configurations were transformative.

Hansen’s most exceptionally talented and high-profile employee was Tage Wandborg, who not only coordinated the vast majority of passenger ship design work, but also styled the exteriors of vessels of all types produced by KNUD E. HANSEN A/S. It was Wandborg who gave the company’s ship designs their immediately recognisable and highly attractive appearance – indeed, thanks to Wandborg’s unique eye for detail, there was a saying in the shipping world that ‘a Hansen ship is a handsome ship.’

From the latter-1950s onwards, KNUD E. HANSEN A/S began to receive numerous orders to design ferries. Car ownership was growing and, for entrepreneurs such as Sten A. Olsson, who founded Stena Line and Otto Thoresen of Thoresen Car Ferries, there was good money to be made. Wandborg devised a standard ferry design which was built with numerous variations for a wide variety of operators during the 1960s. Tragically, Hansen did not live to enjoy the fruits of these efforts because in July 1960, he drowned while out in the Kattegat on his yacht Sollys. A gust of wind caused the boom to shift unexpectedly, pushing him overboard. In his will, he left KNUD E. HANSEN A/S to his ten longest-serving employees and Svend A. Bertelsen became the new managing director.

Shortly before his untimely demise, Hansen had visited Iraq, where following the Revolution, the new Ba’ath Party government was keen to transform the nation’s infrastructure. For the next twenty years, KNUD E. HANSEN A/S worked there to design harbour facilities and dozens of ships, ranging from large tankers and cargo liners to pilot boats, harbour service vessels plus a fleet of pusher-tugs and barges for the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Another important 1960s client was the Haugesund Mekaniske Verksteder in Norway, a shipyard specialising in building tankers and bulk carriers. They decided that it would save money to close down their own drawing office and instead to employ KNUD E. HANSEN A/S to design their vessels and so, every ship built there from 1960 until the latter-1970s was KEH-designed.

In the mid-1960s, Tage Wandborg designed a large ferry for a Norwegian ship owner called Knut Kloster, who wanted to establish a route from Southampton to Gibraltar and Lisbon to bring British holidaymakers to Spain’s Costa Del Sol and to the Algarve in Portugal. Shortly after the Sunward entered service, Spain’s General Franco closed the border with Gibraltar and so she was quickly laid up and offered for sale or charter. In Miami, meanwhile, an entrepreneur called Ted Arison, who successfully ran short cruises to the Bahamas and Jamaica, had his chartered vessel arrested when her owner went bankrupt. Kloster and Arison then struck an agreement and the Sunward was sent to Miami, launching the Norwegian Caribbean Line. Her success kick-started the Caribbean cruise revolution and soon Kloster asked Wandborg to design further, bigger vessels – the Starward, Skyward, Southward and Seaward (which was sold to P&O while under construction and became their Spirit of London).

Shortly after the Starward was completed, Wandborg began to collaborate with the Wärtsilä shipyard in Helsinki in the design and construction of the first cruise ships for Royal Caribbean and for Royal Viking Line. He was also involved in planning vessels for Overseas National Airways (actually delivered to Cunard as the Cunard Ambassador and Cunard Adventurer) and for Øivind Lorentzen and Fearnley & Eger (the Sea Venture and Island Venture) – plus others besides.

The 1973 Oil Crisis proved a bitter blow for the entire shipping industry as fuel costs quadrupled. The ensuing recession caused a lull in orders being placed for most vessel types, but soon a new generation of bigger and more efficient ferry was needed. KNUD E. HANSEN A/S pioneered the ‘jumbo ferry’ type and Bertelsen and Rasmussen worked jointly to devise a new kind of stern configuration called a ‘twin skeg’. The propeller shafts were entirely enclosed in air-filled steel volumes protruding from the hull’s underside to create extra internal volume and, thereby, a bigger deadweight capacity. A carefully designed twin-skeg arrangement could also lessen the transfer of vibration caused by the propellers to a vessel’s aft superstructure and so it was possible to extend the passenger accommodation all the way aft. Four KNUD E. HANSEN A/S-designed ferries for Stena Line and built by Rickmers Werft in the mid-1970s exemplified this development. Meanwhile, KNUD E. HANSEN A/S designed large numbers of ro-ro freight ferries – including the very successful South Korean-built ‘Searunner’ class for Stena Line. From the outset, they were designed with the possibility of being lengthened, fitted with sponsons and an enclosed shelter deck, so they were extremely flexible.

The 1980s brought renewed growth and fresh cruise ship orders. Tage Wandborg planned and oversaw a radical conversion, transforming the mothballed trans-Atlantic liner France into the Norway, at that time the world’s biggest and most glamorous cruise ship. He then proposed a new vessel that would be even bigger – the Phoenix World City, with four apartment blocks, rather than a conventional superstructure. Meanwhile, his colleagues collaborated with shipyards building the Tropicale, Holiday, Royal Princess and Homeric, all of which benefited from KNUD E. HANSEN A/S’ input. Significant ferries were also designed for Stena Line, Rederi AB Gotland, North Sea Ferries, Marine Atlantic, BC Ferries and other leading operators. Others were radically rebuilt – including a succession of second-hand purchases from Japan for ANEK Lines, beginning with the Lissos in 1987 and ending recently with the Elyros.

In the 1990s, KNUD E. HANSEN A/S was involved in designing many of the large Mediterranean ro-pax ferries ordered by ANEK, Minoan Lines, Superfast and Moby Lines, plus Smyril Line’s uniquely robust Norröna. More recently, they have tacked a broad range of complex and diverse projects to design specialised ship types for the offshore wind energy and oil extraction businesses. Presently, they are refining a design for a new generation of ro-ro container ships for Atlantic Container Line to replace the long-serving G3 class vessels.

Today, KNUD E. HANSEN A/S’ headquarters are in Helsingør where the current managing director, Finn Wollesen, presides over an international company with around 60 employees of all ages and many nationalities. KNUD E. HANSEN A/S also have offices in London, Piraeus in Greece, Perth in Australia, Fort Lauderdale in the USA, and Torshavn in the Faroe Islands. During the past 75 years, their achievements have been remarkable and we wish them every success in the future.

In this article, it has only been possible to mention briefly a small fraction of the ships designed by KNUD E. HANSEN A/S, but a new book ‘Knud E. Hansen A/S: 75 Years of Ship Design’ is now avilabel.

Article by Mr. Dr. Bruce Peter, from Ships Monthly.