The Effect Of Ship Design On Ports

By James H. McJunkin, President International Association of Ports & Harbors

There is an old adage about one party sneezing and the other catching pneumonia as a result. This is the routine reaction of ports to new ship designs. A recent example was the introduction of "beyond Panamax container ships" in the Pacific trade by American President Lines.

Suddenly, practically every container crane in the world was obsolete or feared to be obsolete by the port authorities. The new APL ships require a crane boom reach of approximately 140 feet to reach the 16th or outboard rows of containers.

The prior standard was 115 feet to reach over 13 rows of 8-feet-wide containers which is as many rows that can be accommodated in a Panamax vessel with a beam limitation of 106 feet. Although other shipowners have not as yet followed APL, port authorities know they must be prepared for new ship designs, particularly if the change involves larger ships. Therefore, the market for new container cranes has become almost exclusively for the larger, 140- to 150-foot boom length cranes. These cranes are approximately $2 million higher in cost than the older smaller models.

Therefore, the ports of the world will spend a quarter of a billion dollars per year for the next several years because of this one change in ship design.

The explosion of the international trade during the past 30 years has created a global economy, led by very large multinational companies, who collectively ship the majority of all international shipments and who, to compete in our harshly competitive economy, demand a global transportation system designed to meet their logistic plans. The shipowner has had little choice but to meet these demands.

Fortunately the consignor-consignee demands have followed a pattern which has enabled the ship designer to have basic goals in designing ships. These basic requirements are: (1) Transportation must be cheap; (2) Transportation must be fast; (3) Transportation must be damage- free; and (4) Transportation must be very punctual.

For dry cargo, the ship designer has responded by replacing the general purpose tweendecker breakbulk vessel with self-contained cargo-handling gear for dry cargo.

For liquid, he has made the tanker larger and longer. In fact, both bulk carrier and container vessels also continue to grow. The result is that the ports of the world have had to be completely rebuilt, often in different locations.

For example, the finger piers and transit sheds on the Manhattan waterfront are falling into the Hudson and East Rivers. New York's cargo-handling facilities are now container terminals in neighboring New Jersey. The great Port of London is now an office building and apartment complex. Cargo is handled at Felixstowe, 60 miles from London. Rotterdam routinely handles 300,000-ton tankers and 200,000-ton bulk carriers with drafts exceeding 70 feet. Singapore has become the world's largest container port and expects to handle 6,000,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units (TEUs) this year. We could continue this list of port changes ad infinitum.

Amazingly, this complete revolution of shipping and ports has been carried out with no standardization and no contact between ship designer and port. Ten identical vessels are rare. Generally, two or three identical vessels are the norm.

I have been in the port business for 33 years, 11 of those as executive director of a major U.S. port; I have, as yet, never had a conversation with a ship designer about forthcoming vessels. As president of the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH), I know most of the world's port directors. To the best of my knowledge, none of these ladies and gentlemen have had such a conversation. In fact, secrecy is common among shipowners so that a port doesn't know what the problems are until the ship arrives. Many a tense moment has occurred wondering if a new vessel is going to have sufficient water under its keel or whether or not a container crane boom is going to clear the top layer of containers. Somehow, however, the system has worked and shipping transformed itself.

Today, the ports face a greater challenge than ever before in meeting the desires of the merchant marine. For the first time in living memory, some of these port problems may be thrown back to the ship designer to help solve. Most of these problems are environmental in nature and constitute the greatest concern for port management. In fact, when the ports of the world gather this month in Spain for the 17th IAPH Conference, the greatest amount of time will be spent on environmental problems. In other words, knowledge on how and what to build is common knowledge in both undeveloped and developed nations. How to get the permits to build is now the problem.

As background, in addition to the general concern of the human race for a cleaner world, shipping and ports have lost their protective coating.

In our all-out drive for efficiency, we have de-glamorized, dehumanized and de-populated our ports and shipping. In the pre-container age, the ports were generally, immediately, adjacent to the downtown area and the piers were readily accessible to the general population, a person could gaze out his window or stroll through the colorful waterfront and dream of sailing away to far Bombay. Now, the piers are located in more remote areas and surrounded by acres of parking lots and chain-link fences. The glamour is gone. Ships now remain only hours, rather than days, and as a result, there is little or no association between ships' crews and the local population. Ships have become inanimate objects rather than a source of cultural interchange.

Lastly, there are fewer people on the waterfront. Despite the immense growth in trade, the number of ships has not grown. The ships have grown larger and the crew size has been dramatically reduced. The waterfront employs far fewer people at waterfront locations. For example, in New York the number has been reduced from 40,000 to 4,000 jobs.

The number needed is probably 2,000. Employment has not actually been so dramatically reduced; it has been scattered throughout the community. The direct employment in the port of Rotterdam, still considered the world's largest port, is nearly 69,000. Only 15 percent, or 10,000, are engaged in loading or unloading ships. Therefore, the political base of waterfront workers has disappeared.

No one is suggesting a return to a labor intensive industry, but it does make it harder for port authorities, which are by and large an area unit of government, to gain support and money for port projects.

The local populace is now indifferent and, in some instances, hostile to the port. This comes at a time when ports, as never before, need political support for the necessary permits and funding to carry out port projects. These conditions effect the ship designer in several important ways. The most important are: (1) Ship size—Larger ships require deeper channels, and at most ports, deeper channels require dredging of polluted channel bottoms which, in turn, require permits and disposal areas. Currently, the Cape-size vessel of 100,000 to 125,000 tons is becoming a very popular workhorse in both the dry and liquid bulk trades. Cape-size tankers and bulk carriers require channel depths in excess of 50 feet.

The larger container vessels now require in excess of 40 feet of water.

Most of the world's ports do not have channels this deep, and many will find it impossible or very difficult to gain permits to dredge. The ports, therefore, are finding it impossible to react to the needs of the larger ships. The ship designer may have to settle for smaller ships which extract an economic penalty.

(2)Pollution from ships—The various Marpol regulations are but indicators of things to come. The recent U.S. legislation requiring double-hulled tankers is one such indicator. Another is the very serious drive by the Los Angeles Air Quality Management District to require ships to turn off their engines and use shoe power when alongside a dock. It is estimated that this would reduce air contaminants in the Los Angeles area by nearly 5 tons per year. Many ships' engine designers have never been active in emission reduction efforts.

They had better become active or lose access to many ports.

The days when ship designers could treat the ports with the benign confidence that they would be able to accommodate any new ship design are probably over.

About the Author: Current president of the International Association of Ports and Harbors, James H. McJunkin is also a consultant with the Kingsley Group, Inc., Berkeley, Calif. From 1977 to 1988, Mr. McJunkin served as the executive director of the Port of Long Beach, Calif. Other experience includes active duty in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Arizona and performed graduate work at Golden Gate University, San Francisco, Calif.

Other stories from May 1991 issue


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