Shipowners in the ro-pax and ro-ro field are facing unprecedented problems as a direct result of IMO’s ill thought out and hastily introduced EEDI requirements. With many years of under-investment, the sector has finally started to experience consistent profitability which happily has coincided with a downturn in other shipping sectors.
Hardly surprisingly, there are an unprecedented number of newbuilding projects being discussed with shipyards but the choices facing owners are far from simple. In the last months, some projects have become firm orders with owners such as Stena, DFDS, Cobelfret and Toll leading the way, but many others plan to follow. However, behind the scenes, many of these projects have faced serious issues with EEDI compliance.
The problems that were faced by Scandlines at P+S Werften have been well documented but they underline the reluctance of ro-ro and ferry owners to order at inexperienced shipyards. Familiar ferry building yards such as Van der Giessen, Flender, Finnyards, Fosen, Stocznia Gdansk, Apuania and others have disappeared leaving very few with any recent knowledge of the sector.
Those that are left have focussed on the more lucrative cruise business, which is also running at a high level of activity. This is forcing shipowners to consider building in the Far East. Many consider Stena’s recent order at AVIC Weihai to be very speculative seeing as the yard has built nothing more than bulk carriers up until now, but the trickle of orders to inexperienced Far Eastern yards will become a stream as owners wake up to the dearth of capacity in Europe.
An unwelcome and unexpected issue is the EEDI rules, introduced from 1 January this year, which seem to have been conceived with little understanding of the real issues facing shipowners.
As has already been well documented this year in The Naval Architect (see April pages 20-21 and May TNA pages 36-41) the desire to reach a common “one size fits all” solution has spectacularly backfired. To lump all ro-ro ships into one pot – just because they have a common feature of an opening in the stern – is manifestly illogical.
There are different rules for bulk carriers, general cargo ships and containerships despite the fact that they all have hatch openings, so why should ro-ros be treated any differently? On one end of the scale are the recent ACL con-ro newbuildings. Large and with a relatively low Froude number, no comparable tonnage has ever been built before. Despite being considerably more energy efficient than the vessels they replace, the new Atlantic Star and its sisters do not achieve the requisite EEDI.
At the other end of the scale are the more common shortsea ro-ro vessels engaged on dedicated services transporting relatively lightweight cargo such as trailers and new cars. To maintain a daily roundtrip, these vessels have a set service speed with sufficient margins to cope with bad weather conditions.
Typically, the ports are far from ideal with both length and draft restrictions. To maintain manoeuvrability, such vessels are usually equipped with twin screws. To try and force both vessel types into a common formula that works and fulfils its intended purpose is impossible.
Many ro-ro ships are built to iceclass standards. Reefer trailers and containers are routinely transported, powered by shaft generators in many cases. These factors are not adequately considered in the EEDI formulation. From the shipowner’s perspective, the whole EEDI issue has become an unnecessary bureaucratic burden. It certainly does not encourage energy efficiency.
Even if a hullform is designed that achieves the desired EEDI, the shipowner now faces a series of unexpected hurdles in the shipbuilding process. In any shipbuilding contract, the shipyard usually takes the risk to achieve a specified speed and deadweight. There is considerable risk involved especially with prototype vessels. While the Scandlines project has received widespread publicity, there are many examples of both ro-pax and ro-ro vessels not reaching their projected deadweight due to optimistic lightweight calculations.
To mitigate the risk, shipyards obviously include margins. With the addition of EEDI, another risk factor appears which also depends on both speed and deadweight. Is it any surprise that extra margins are added on top with the only people set to gain being the lawyers and certainly not the environment?
This state of affairs is untenable and the IMO must recognise that the EEDI is not fit for purpose. It is ironic to see some yards and consultants boasting about how well their designs perform in EEDI terms, but this is rather to be seen as a failure of the formulation.
The tendency for IMO to force through new legislation without adequate industry feedback is becoming ever more prevalent. It is now generally recognised that the data set used for the formulation of both ro-ro and ro-pax EEDI formulae was both riddled with errors and very incomplete.
The number of ro-ro ships that were tested with the EEDI formulae prior to its introduction were limited to a handful of vessels, mostly pure trailer vessels. This is reminiscent of the hasty introduction of common rules for cargo vessel damage stability. Only a single European ro-ro vessel was tested, which happened to be an Italian built vessel that suffered from very high levels of GM. The ro-ro was subsequently converted with the addition of one complete extra ro-ro deck without the need for extra sponsons.
While shipowners are ultimately not responsible for lobbying their national IMO representatives, the harsh economic climate of the last decade has forced most ferry and ro-ro owners to be reactive rather than proactive. Fortunately, groups such as Interferry are becoming more vocal within IMO, but shipowners now fear that they are trying to close the gate after the horse has already bolted. The next session of IMO’s MEPC in October is due to discuss the issue and for the sake of the future of the ro-ro and ro-pax sectors, owners need to be very involved.