Sailing Toward A Future
What might a commercial cargo ship of the future look like?
Speculation encountered in respect of future technology is often derived of the engineered approach, from the modern world’s Isambard Brunel style of imagining “big things”.
Many “futurologists” flirt with a simple concept for the building of something, or achieving a limited goal-set, and that pleases them. The problem, however, with narrowly conceived thinking (or solutions), are unintended consequences. This is especially so in heavily networked environments such as those we encounter in supply chains.
Before we answer that, we should acknowledge that there can be extended periods of supply-sided solution imposition. Including times where poorly conceived networks are built to support inappropriately selected core assets. Unfortunately, even before the network degeneration is observed, the consequences derived of poorly allocated capital may already be significant for those leveraged into it.
The largest container ships being built today carry 4-5 times the number of containers that the largest similarly tasked ships did in recent decades. When we look at the recent past trend in container ship development it is plain that a single “desire” (ie: economy of scale on a port-to-port basis), as conceived by shipping corporations, their financiers, and the port authorities/states that they serve, has driven the “go big” developments.
There are some alternate future developmental paths under consideration, as may be identified here: http://theloadstar.co.uk/wind-technology-could-give-shipping-lines-double-digit-fuel-savings/. And perhaps these too, at first glance, appear to have been narrowly conceived.
In respect of the current largest modern cellular container cargo ships, those with cargo heights that can run to over 70 m above the water line, with lengths of over 400m, and being around 60m wide; the prospect of safely plonking any sort of wind energy capturing device - clear of the hull and the cellular based container stack - is unrealistic. Even the flying of a sail or kite from such a vessel, would likely require a keel depth that would render them an unrealistic proposition in the real world.
You might say to yourself that the market will eventually sort this out – that not all ships are large today – but you would be ignoring the trend – the weight of numbers. All ships - in all the major and minor trades - are getting larger. The largest container vessels employed in the major east-west trades has grown from those able to load 4,000 TEU (twenty foot equivalent shipping containers) just decades ago to those now able to load 20,000 TEU. And this growth rate is now being replicated in percentage terms by nearly the same degree in the north-south trades. In addition, Maersk recently reported the introduction of a vessel of over 3000 TEU in the intra-Europe trades.
So in the above, perhaps all we might say today is that narrow engineering elements are currently in the ascendancy among those commanding outcomes in shipping infrastructure investment. Later, we will seek to convince you that the trend may be reversed.
Today, however, we will conclude with just a cameo in respect of the largest of ships. It is highly likely, over time, that there will be a fire that overwhelms the on board fire suppression systems of a +20,000 TEU container ship. What happens then?
You might consider the potential aggregate size of cargo and/or environmental claims given a catastrophic event involving a container ship of this size. You might even contemplate what the effect of the declaration of general average might mean to insurers and those cargo owners at risk.
And, in respect of environmental risk and salvage, as some insurers have commented, there may be no existing external fire-fighting or cargo handling equipment that can be effectively brought to bear out of port on a ship of this size. Fire is only one risk among others, and insurers are concerned...