Following the delivery of its Algoma Mariner-series, Algoma Central Corporation (ACC) ordered a further 12 ships from European and Chinese yards, a five-ship order from Nantong Mingde Heavy Industries in China was made for the gearless bulker and gravity type self-unloading (SUL) ships. In Europe, the Uljanik Group of Croatia agreed a deal with ACC to deliver five similar SUL’s, but with the discharge boom forward. An order of two similar, boom aft SULs, was made at Jiangsu Yangzijiang Shipbuilding Co. of China.
Three Nantong Mingde 225m gearless bulkers were delivered in the fourth quarter 2013 and the second and fourth quarters of 2014. A fourth gearless bulker and the first SUL are expected to be delivered in 2016. Delivery of two 225m boom aft SUL’s from the Yangzijiang yard will be in the first quarter of 2018 and the five boom forward SUL’s from the Croatian yard, Uljanik, will consist of two 198m vessels to be delivered in the first and third quarters of 2017 and three 225m ships to be delivered during 2018.
Vessel designs agreed with the shipyards had significant input from ACC in the shape of Don Larkin, director of fleet development, naval architecture, who also looks after transport economics and cargo systems integration; Bernie Johnson, director of special projects marine engineering, who also covers the brief for electrical and control systems and approval of all equipment as well as the supervision of site teams; Robert Houston, director of technical environmental technologies, also covering ship production methodologies, outfitting, systems; and Al Vanagas, senior vice president and technical executive responsible for fleet renewal comprising all 12 ships, marine engineering, operational integration and all technical and commercial aspects including profit and loss.
Larkin says in a tongue in cheek fashion: “Naval architects do have a place in the world, indeed, some of our best friends are members of that tribe”. He does, however, also point out that as shipowners and operators they have a significant amount to offer during the design phase of the ships that will be included in the ACC fleet.
“As shipowners and operators it has long been apparent to us that the input of those who will operate the ships and with luck, make money with them is of the utmost importance in the delivery of an exceptional merchant ship. This is not always acknowledged by professional designers. Algoma recognised this during the construction of the last generation of lakers, maintained that capability through the years, and applied resources in-house to interface and in many cases override the judgement of the ‘designers’. In fact, the designers of these ships are ex-chief engineers and an ex-VP of operations at a shipyard.”
Involvement of these four experienced members of staff was considered “a necessity” by ACC in the development of their newbuildings.
Some of the specific issues that needed to be addressed for ACC at the design stage included the recognition that the vessels’ operations would be entirely within the North American Sulphur Emission Control Area (SECA) and that the ships would require technology, in this case the Wärtsilä closed-loop exhaust gas scrubbers, to meet this requirement.
In addition, the provision for the retrofit of a ballast water treatment system, which would be commissioned once the technological barriers to effective operation in sometimes turbid, almost always fresh water, are eliminated.
A trade profile which includes operation in confined waters, including rivers and canals within the St. Lawrence Seaway for around one third of the vessels’ operational time.
Lakers must operate with minimal assistance from ashore for mooring, shifting (warping) or manoeuvring. The ships are equipped with high angle/performance rudders and bow and possibly stern thrusters.
There is also a requirement that these land locked ships can operate with significant autonomy. For example, from the Western extremity of Lake Superior to Port Cartier, a grain transhipment port in the Gulf of St. Lawrence involves 1,564 nautical sailing miles. Port Cartier to Bristol, England is 2,617 nautical miles.
However, the wave environment within the lakes means that the vessel hull strength (midship modulus) will need to be only 50% of that required on a deepsea ship having identical dimensions.
Included in the design considerations is that the vessels will operate in a region with a 10 month navigating season. Locks within the canals are deactivated from January-April each year due to low temperatures, but some ports have a longer operating season and can be served by ships if canal transits are not required. Freezing conditions eventually make them inaccessible. The ship’s systems and structure must be designed for this low temperature environment.
Gravity fed conveyor belts elevate the bulk cargo material to the deck-mounted 80m long deck boom for discharge ashore at rates exceeding 5,000tonnes/hour. This capability has the obvious implications for the ballast system.
Competitive pressures from other modes, specifically rail, which operates year-round and complies with different emissions standards, have meant that the vessels must be able to provide a cost effective alternative.