Efficiency in ship operation is gaining in significance. Both continued low freight and charter rates on the one hand, and extra costs as a result of new environmental requirements on the other are forcing ship owners to take action. With the support of shipbuilders and engine specialists they have developed a series of innovative new ideas. As one of the leading shipping and shipbuilding nations in the world, Germany has taken on a pioneering role here.
Buxtehude-based Reederei NSB dared to take the most extraordinary step, although ‘cutting’ would be more appropriate than ‘stepping’: The Buxtehuders cut through the container ship MSC Geneva lengthwise, widening it from Panmax size 32.2 m to 39.76 m (the built-in area can be seen in the article photo and is highlighted in red). This resulted not only in a growth in storage capacity from 4872 to 6299 TEU, but also in an improvement in the width-length ratio, eliminating the previous constraints associated with the slimline Panmax container freighter. With its new outline the MSC Geneva is now optimised for lower service speeds and thus for lower fuel consumption.
In light of the current capacity surplus NSB has put any further enlargement plans on hold for now. A major ship retrofit is not always necessary – even smaller changes can increase efficiency. In order to adapt your fleet to the current trend of slow steaming, for example, experts from the Maritime Centre of the Flensburg University of Applied Sciences recommend examining your fleet’s entire drive assembly. Using a low-speed lightweight propeller, the pitch and efficiency of which is optimised for reduced propulsion, could enable energy savings of 3 to 7 %. A further 2 % saving is possible with the help of a ‘propeller boss cap’ which is attached to the end of the propeller shaft and reduces the turbulence in the wake field of the propeller with its fins.
New environmental requirements increase demands
One of the greatest cost factors in shipping at the moment comes as a result of environmental requirements for travel through Sulphur Emission Controlled Areas (SECA) in the North and Baltic Seas among others where there are strict limitations on sulphur emissions. Even those who save on the costs of an exhaust gas purification system and would rather used low-sulphur marine gas oil (MGO) within the SECA zones should seek the technical assistance of engine specialists such as MWB Power. After all, the switch from heavy fuel oil (HFO) to MGO is by no means trivial, warn the experts at MWB Power. The range of challenges spans from the differing temperature of the two fuel types and the right composition of lubricants right through to the correct temperature change over a set period. Furthermore, there must be sufficient tank capacity – the SOLAS requirements stipulate that there must be enough MGO in the day tank for at least eight hours’ ship operation under normal conditions.
However, the days of heavy fuel oil and gas oil as the driving force in shipping are numbered, even if the definitive end is still a long way off. New fuel types are on the rise – most notably liquefied natural gas (LNG). LNG is generally used in dual-fuel engines which may, where required, be switched to running on MGO. German shipbuilders and drive experts are regarded as leaders in the integration of dual-fuel drives. They are setting international standards with the retrofitting of the Wadden Sea Ferry ‘MS Ostfriesland’, the new ‘MS Helgoland’ passenger ship and the first LNG-driven luxury liners. Now the first projects are underway to retrofit second-hand cargo ships to dual-fuel operation, and electrical engines are gaining increasing attention in research labs. Here it is not just a question of optimising classic diesel-electric systems, but one of ‘clean power’ – the fuel cells already used to great effect in military U-boats could also be used in future as a power source in commercial shipping.
The age of ‘Shipping 4.0’ has already begun
In future we could even see fully-automatic ships crossing the Wadden Sea – corresponding concept studies and initial research projects for autonomous unmanned ships are already underway both at DNV-GL and the Fraunhofer Centre for Maritime Logistics (CML). The age of ‘Shipping 4.0’ has however already begun in a significantly more tangible form. Major shipping companies record the technical parameters of their ships such as speed, engine power and consumption digitally and transfer these to what is referred to as a fleet support centre. There captains have access to the guidance of engineers and navigators to guarantee a cost-effective running of the ship. In a field test Hamburg-based shipping company E.R. Schiffahrt demonstrated that the digitisation of shipping can be achieved even on small container ships with relatively little outlay. For a few months now the 158 metre-long ‘E.R. Tallinn’ has served as a floating test lab for the future digital configuration of a classic freighter on her regular feeder trips between Hamburg and the Baltic region.
Powerful mobile telecommunications systems ensure the “floating lab” is online around the clock. Webcam images of the situation on board as well as data on the current position, the speed and course are transmitted to Hamburg via the internet at a five-minute frame rate. As well as the ship’s operation, this information also helps to optimise ship- and loading-related tasks. Thus, shipping company headquarters can for example assess the status of loading and unloading sequences or inform port operations and forwarders of the exact arrival time of the freighter – thereby saving the navigators on the bridge a lot of hassle. Initial fears that the crew might view this as unwanted surveillance and interference in onboard operations, turned out to be unfounded. On the contrary: the sailors welcomed the project. After all, now they can surf the internet on the high seas and stay in touch with their families via e-mail or Skype.