Monday, October 28, 2013
The reefership market has been experiencing a very hard time over the last years as containerships have taken an ever larger share of their business. The reefer capacity on some of the largest containerships such as Maersk’s new Triple-E class far outstrips the largest dedicated reefer vessel which are now rather marginalized to some often seasonal specialized trading routes. Few reefers have been ordered in the last 5 years so it came as quite a surprise when a brand new reefer ro-ro concept was announced by Stena RoRo in partnership with Reefer Intel, a company owned by Birger Lindberg Skov, a former President of Lauritzen Reefers.
The Achilles heel of conventional reefer operations is the comparatively slow and labour intensive cargo handling. This has led some of the largest banana suppliers, such as Dole, to switch entirely to a reefer containership operation which works well on their dedicated, high capacity, Central America - US routes. However, not all banana growers are convinced that expensive and maintenance craving reefer containers are the correct answer. For this reason, Reefer Intel have been looking at other solutions and the reefer ro-ro looks promising.
The concept revolves around the use of special 12.3m long by 2.05m wide low height 20 pallet cassettes on which the banana pallets would be loaded. A total of 365 cassettes can be loaded or discharged from the projected vessel within 12 hours, less than one third of the time required on a conventional vessel. The cassettes are block stowed on four decks via fixed ramps and a stern quarter ramp. A total of 10 compartments would have their own individual ventilation and cooling systems.
The vessel concept, developed by Knud E. Hansen A/S, has an overall length of 199.0m, 29.0m beam and 8.4m design draft. The vessel is powered by a 25,340kW two-stroke main engine, sufficient for a 20.5 knot service speed. Apart from the four ro-ro decks, the on-deck 210 FEU (forty-foot equivalent unit) lo-lo intake is handled simultaneously by three portside mounted cranes. It has been calculated that the new concept would result in a 40% lower unit pallet cost compared with traditional reefers but it is clearly the fast handling where the system scores. The vessel would only need to maintain an 18-knot transatlantic loaded service speed and 15-knot ballast speed to maintain the same schedule as a conventional reefer sailing at 20 knots. At present bunker prices, this would net a $100,000 benefit per round voyage, quite apart from the savings in stevedoring costs.
The key to the implementation of the innovative project will be determined by interest from the major banana shippers. On the back of a long-term contract, Stena RoRo are willing to invest but the specialist nature of the vessels means that they cannot be used on other trades or even on normal ro-ro services.
The concept of combining ro-ro with reefer capacity is nothing new. Cool Carriers investigated such groundbreaking designs back in the Eighties. Horn Line built a trio of ro-ro reefers HORNBAY, HORNCAP anf HORNCLIFF at Uljanik in 1991 but the business case was rather to combine reefer cargoes Eastbound from the Caribbean with vehicles being shipped Westbound. A unique combination reefer/PCTC is in operation from the United States to Japan. The 210m long SUNBELT SPIRIT ships fresh oranges to Japan for Great American Lines, returning with up to 6,100 new vehicles.
by H. VON HERFURTH
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