Thursday, January 4, 2024

An antique by any other name

 The Mediterranean Shipping Co MSC is well known for operating older ships. Today (January 4) their MSC Leandra V arrived in Halifax and lived up to that reputation but not in the usual way. At seventeen years of age it is not old by MSC standards. Some of the line's recent callers are approaching thirty. Instead it is the ship's appearance that makes it look much older.

Ships with engines and superstructure amidships must be in the dinosaur category nowadays. In the early days of steam, where engines and bunkers required large amounts of space, they were installed amidhips. As propulsion systems shifted to oil fired then to internal combustion less space was required. Ship designers also maximized cargo capacity by using the widest part of the hull for cargo. Moving the engines aft meant that the long shaft tunnel, which used up valuable cargo space, could also be eliminated.

With the evolution of bulk carriers and container ships came the development of smaller engines and more efficient engines and reduced ship speed. Some early container ships were built for speed and had cruising velocities in the high 20 knots range.

MSC Leandra V was built by Volkswerft in Stralsund, Germany to their VW5000 design and launched in 2007 for the A.P.Moller-Maersk British subsidiary Maersk Co Ltd as Maersk but was renamed on delivery as Maersk Buffalo. In 2011 it became the Buffalo but in 2012 was renamed Maersk Buffalo, then was briefly named Seago Istanbul before becoming MSC Leandra also in 2012.  In June 2023 the Roman numeral "V" was added to the name to denote a nominal container capacity up to 5,000 TEU.

The ship measures 49,477 gt and 53,701 dwt with a current capacity of 4170 TEU or 4504 TEU (depending on the source). The most startling statistic however is its cruising speed rating of 29.2 knots (55 kph) (versus 24 knots for previous high speed container ships). Even more startling was the maximum speed of 37 knots (69 kph)- a speed rarely exceeded even by warships. Express speeds for container ships were often specified for ships that were designated for potential military use, but Maersk was not forthcoming on that possibility. 

The ship was part of the seven ship Maersk B class that were the world's fastest container ships intended to maintain a high speed service between China and the United States. They proved uneconomical immediately and with the economic downturn of the time, the ships were laid up on delivery. None of the ships ever operated on the intended service. When they did enter service, between Asia and Europe, reducing speed to 12 knots also reduced feul consumption dramatically - from a reported 300 tonnes per day to 50 tonnes per day. (All figures are approximate and are an average of numbers from various sources,)

 In order to produce that 29 knots, the ship needed the world's largest marine diesel engine. The Wartsila-Sulzer 12 cylinder unit develops 93,360 hp (68,640 kW) and had to be installed amidships as the lines at the stern were so fine that there was no room. (A subsequent 14 cylinder version of the engine is now the world's largest, but also powers ships twice the size of this one.)

The ship's fine lines were evident today as the ship arrived from Mediterranean ports via Sines, Portgual on the CANEX1 service. (It was also here December 3, but wasn't seen in the dark and was not mentioned on this blog.) Its recorded average speed on this trip was 13.8 knots with a maximum of 18.3 knots. After dropping off a few containers here to reduce draft it will be on its way to Montreal.

Just to put age in perspective the truly venerable Oceanex Sanderling also arrived this morning.

Many lines operate ships in the 15 to 20 year old range but Oceanex maintains the Oceanex Sanderling, now age 47, on the weekly Halifax / St.John's service. The ship is virtually irreplaceable due to its costly container and RoRo (CONRO) configuration, an increasingly rare type of ship.


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