ONE of the biggest benefits to ship capacity and fuel efficiency in the near future will be the widening of the Panama Canal, according to experts at Wallenius Marine, one of the Scandinavian shipowners that have been pushing the boundaries of sustainable ship management in recent years.
Stockholm-based Wallenius owns a fleet of car carriers, many operated in joint ventures with its Norwegian partner Wilh. Wilhelmsen.
Vessel optimisation demands have seen vessels get larger over recent years to meet operational demands and costs. The width of the Panama Canal has, however, been a limiting factor. Vessels designed for worldwide trade need to be able to transit the Suez and Panama canals, but the Panama Canal has a beam limit of about 32 m. Ports and terminal sizes would often limit the length of a design. The result is that vessels have been built higher in recent years, with the resulting demand for extra ballast water to ensure sufficient stability.
Take two car carriers as an example: the 1981-built Madame Butterfly and the 2011-built Tonsberg. Both have similar beam of about 32.3 m as they have been built to navigate the current Panama Canal, yet the newer vessel is 67 m longer but with 76,500 gt compared with 50,681 gt. Both have similar drafts at 11 m. The extra cargo capacity has been achieved by building up as well as lengthways.
The opening of the Panama Canal’s widened locks in 2014 will mean that newbuildings can be wider. This allows naval architects to begin looking at ways to minimise ballast water while increasing cargo. The new canal limits are also good in many cases for future vessel compliance with the energy efficiency design index.
There are already ballast-free design suggestions for various ship types, though it is unlikely these would be ordered initially. Ballast water will still be required for some control of stability and trim, depending on cargo load. But the reduction of ballast water requirements could mean that smaller treatment systems may be installed, and cargo capacity optimised even further.
PANAMA CANAL WIDENING
Existing canal limits
New panamax limits