Panamax container ships on their way out? Yes, says Germanischer Lloyd (GL) head Hermann Klein, who told a media gathering in London that the upgrading of the Panama Canal, with new wider locks, is likely to force owners to rethink issues of efficiency of present Panamax container vessels. The new wider locks are slated to be opened in 2014.
Dr. Klein thinks that year would be the start of the phasing out of the current lot of Panamax box ships, presently built to a tall, narrow and long design to maximise cargo while still being narrow enough to pass through the Canal. Unfortunately, this makes them a little less stable; a problem that is solved presently by each vessel keeping ballast of up to 15% of its cargo capacity on board. The GL boss told journalists that carrying the additional deadweight raises fuel consumption: once the new locks opened, owners would have options that would allow them to build new wider ships that did not need the ballast kept in, and these would be considerably more efficient. The older vessels may not be economical on other routes for the same reason.
In any case, said Dr Klein, vessels would now have to be built more fuel efficient, more environmentally friendly and with an eye on service speeds. GL has long been a proponent of slow steaming for container ships, strongly urging the industry to look at container ship service speeds of 14 knots, and Dr. Klein said the new builds should see owners crunching the numbers and installing engines of lower power than exist today; he expected that IMO's new, ‘Tier 3’ rules on nitrogen oxide emissions, will “make heavy fuel oil impractical as bunkers and so merchant ships will have to use distillate fuel from 2016”.
Internet as retention policy, suggests North P&I Club, saying that young seafarers today expected the same online access that they got at home. “Faster turnarounds in port and restricted shore leave mean life on board can become increasingly lonely,” says Tony Baker, chief of loss prevention at North. “Improving the ability to get online can have significant benefits for crew morale and well-being – but it needs to be managed properly.”
The club says that mariners would be happier employees if improved internet access at sea offered regular contact with family and friends, highlighting research that said that living conditions and the quality and cost of communication on board were major factors with youngsters looking at a seafaring career. "‘Young seafarers now expect to have similar internet connectivity when at sea as they do at home," says Baker, pointing out that better internet setups will help in seafarer training, reduce accidents and allow managers better access to the ship and the crew. "Continual professional development programmes rely on a significant amount of on-board training and supervision, much of which could be done online," Baker said.
The club realises however, that present prohibitive installation and running costs need to be carefully factored into business plans, and that there are legal issues if the ship’s computers are found to contain inappropriate material, downloaded from the internet or not. Liverpool arrested five seafarers last year for having pornographic material on mobile phones and computers on board. North says shipowners should amend seafarer contracts so that the rights of individuals and management can both be protected to cover such eventualities.