Throughout the history of the container industry, shipping lines have looked to increase their market share in two different ways. The first is by the acquisition of smaller companies. Shipping lines such as Maersk Line and CMA CGM have done this on a regular basis, most notably in recent years. The second option is to grow organically, as has Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC).
Another shipping line that has taken the organic approach to growth in recent years is Kuwait based United Arab Shipping Co (UASC). The relatively young company was established in July 1976 by a joint shareholding comprising six Arab states - Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Officially the line has its headquarters in the city of Safat, Kuwait but since the early 1990s its commercial and operations centre has been based in vibrant Dubai.
Over the last few years it has been actively growing its presence in the global container trades. It has achieved this through a number of vessel sharing agreements with other lines, most recently becoming a founding member of the Ocean Three alliance together with China Shipping Container Lines (CSCL) and CMA CGM.
In August 2013, as part of its ambitious growth strategy, it placed an order for 17 ultra large container vessels (ULCVs). A number of shipyards tendered for the huge order, but the world's number one shipbuilder, South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) was the successful bidder.
The landmark deal, which was the largest in UASC's history, comprised five 15,000 teu A15 class vessels to be built at HHI's Ulsan shipyard and five 18,800 teu A19* class vessels to be built by the Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries yard in Mokpo. The order also had options for an additional one A19 and six A15 vessels, all of which were exercised early the following year. Together with the options the total value of the order was US$2.5 billion, with all vessels being classed by DNV GL. The first A19 vessel Barzan was delivered in April 2015, followed by the second, Al Muraykh, in August.
It has become abundantly clear that only the most fuel efficient vessels will survive into the future, and fuel economy was a major consideration for UASC during the design process for the A19 class. Since 1997 the line has worked closely with Hamburg based consultant and ship designer Technolog Services on the optimisation of its newbuildings. The size and capacity of its new ships have grown steadily from the initial Panamax class of 10 A4 (4,100 teu) ships launched in 1998, and the eight A7 class (7,200 teu) vessels launched in 1998, to the nine A13 class (13,500 teu) ships launched in 2010, and now the latest A15 and A19 classes.
Al Muraykh, along with the other A19 class ships, is heralded as the world's most environmentally friendly vessel. Its design has been optimised to ensure the highest possible efficiency without compromising container capacity. It is one of the first container ships to have an overall length of 400m, its draught of 16m allows for up to 10 tiers of containers to be loaded below deck, and a breadth of 58.6m equates to 23 rows of containers wide.
As with all ships in this size bracket, Al Muraykh has the now familiar split superstructure design which maximises container intake without increasing overall dimensions. One of the main differences between ships of this size and design is the configuration of the container bays. Al Muraykh has nine bays forward of the bridge, 11 mid ships and four bays aft of the funnel. In theory, bays behind the bridge can be loaded with higher stacks of containers than forward of the bridge, because there are no Marpol rules governing visibility aft of the bridge.
On deck a maximum of 11 tiers high can be loaded. The additional tier is thanks to extra high lashing bridges which are five tiers high on the outermost cells. Supplied by MacGregor, they are the tallest lashing bridges installed on any container ship currently afloat. The extra height means that when a 6th tier or higher of containers is loaded on a bay, the bottom of that 6th tier is lashed.
Although lashing bridges are not elements of the ship's hull, they are an integral part of the ship and cargo system. MacGregor was fully involved in the ship's design from a very early stage. According to the company, the cargo handling system is designed to maximise payload potential and operational efficiency, which in turn reduces the environmental impact by minimising emissions per teu carried.
The optimised MacGregor cargo handling system aboard Al Muraykh comprises hatch covers, under-deck cell guides, a comprehensive lashing system, and MacGregor's Lashmate software program. The software aims to verify the safety of cargo loaded on board. It is able to do so by comparing the actual cargo being loaded with Al Muraykh's particulars and lashing system. It then verifies that all safety conditions are met. If it detects any excessive forces, for example, it can propose alternative loading options.
The main features of the Lashmate software are that it:
-calculates the lashing forces for the entire ship's lashing system and actual loading cases
-gives a warning if excessive forces are detected
-can calculate and suggest an optional stack distribution
-can calculate according to DNV GL, Lloyd’s Register, ABS, Bureau Veritas and Korean Register rules
-uses interface files from loading computers as input files, and
-can read standard EDIFACT (Electronic Data Interchange For Administration, Commerce and Transport) BAPLIE and a number of other input file formats.
Unlike Maersk Line's twin engine Triple-E series, UASC decided on a single engine design for Al Muraykh. It is fitted with an MAN B&W 10S90ME-C9&10 unit that was built under licence by Hyundai. Lukoil Marine Lubricants supplied its iCOlube, which it describes as an intelligent cylinder oil lubrication unit designed to optimise both the performance and the overall efficiency of the engine. The engine drives a single fixed pitch five blade propeller. Although a top speed of 22 knots is possible, the vessel’s optimal speed will be 16-18 knots which has become the norm on the major east-west trades.
A Becker Twisted Fin energy saving device is fitted in front of the propeller. Developed specifically for fast container ships and other vessels that have a bulbous stern design, each unit is individually designed according to the vessel's hull geometry, propeller design and engine. Becker also supplied a twisted rudder and installed its Becker Intelligent Monitoring System (BIMS) for rudder force measurement, and HP Super, its lubrication free carrier bearing material.
Fuel savings of up to 3 per cent are expected, as well as a reduction in NOx and CO2 emissions. Preliminary calculations indicate that Al Muraykh's Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) value is close to 50 per cent below the 2025 limit set by IMO.
Gas ready and future proof
From the very start of the development process Al Muraykh and the other vessels in the A19 series have been optimised for economy and the lowest possible fuel consumption, which in turn will lead to lower emissions. Through all the stages of their development, UASC, Technolog Services and HHI, as well as the other main suppliers, have been involved in the optimisation of the vessels. This includes an optimised hullform, and a ship-to-shore power supply solution for zero emissions at berth.
What sets these vessels apart from other ULCVs is that they are gas ready and could at some future date be retrofitted in order to run on liquefied natural gas (LNG). At an early stage UASC decided that LNG would be the preferred option, rather than investing in scrubbers and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology. The company is among the first vessel owners in the world to plan its newbuildings for LNG retrofitting and is the largest container line to do so. This decision has made it the potential market leader for LNG as a ship fuel because of the size of the vessels that could now be run on it.
Al Muraykh and the other ships in its class are the first vessels to receive DNV GL's Gas Ready notation. The shipping industry considers LNG to be one of the most important alternative fuels because of its potential to help reduce shipping’s impact on the environment. Any vessel operating on LNG will greatly reduce its NOx, SOx and particulate emissions and it will also help to reduce CO2 emissions. LNG is not, however, a commercially viable alternative at present, and it will not be viable until it can be offered below the current price for heavy fuel oil (HFO). At present for certain ship types LNG can be as much as 30 per cent more expensive.
According to DNV GL, LNG is likely to be the most commercially attractive fuel option from 2020 when the price of low sulphur HFO and marine gas oil (MGO) is expected to be higher, and given the long-term availability of natural gas.
LNG as a fuel has characteristics that have an impact on a ship's design. Notably, it has half the density of diesel fuel, so larger storage tanks are required for the same cruising range. As LNG is not stored at high pressure the tanks can be positioned below deck. This is unlike compressed natural gas (CNG), where the tanks are at high pressure and are therefore positioned on deck - as seen in the Marlin class of new gas fuelled ships for the US carrier TOTE that were launched last year. As LNG is a liquid only at cryogenic temperatures (-163°C) it requires special storage tanks, pipe systems and handling as it will slowly evaporate when stored. Additional systems are required in order to deal with the boil off gas, as venting to air is not allowed.
Al Muraykh has been designed for future conversion to LNG via retrofitting. During the design process it became obvious that the most suitable location to install the tanks would be in the cargo hold directly in front of the engineroom, as this would require shorter pipe system routes to the LNG tank. An IMO Type B tank will have the greatest stowage density, compared to a smaller cylindrical Type C tank. A Type B tank would also be adjustable to Al Muraykh’s hull shape, ensuring that fewer container slots are lost.
The LNG plant design has been approved in principle and was obtained from DNV GL, with technical co-operation between UASC's newbuilding team, HHI, Hyundai's Engine & Machinery Division, and Japan Marine United Corp for the SPB (self-supporting prismatic shape Type B) LNG tank.
Al Muraykh is deployed on UASC Asia Europe Container Service 1 (AEC1) that it operates with its Ocean Three alliance partners. The service has the port rotation Qingdao-Shanghai-Ningbo-Yantian-Xiamen-Port Kelang-Felixstowe-Hamburg-Rotterdam-Zeebrugge.
On 16 December 2015 it sailed from Port Kelang bound for Felixstowe carrying a record 18,601 teu which to date is the largest number of containers carried on board any vessel at any one time. It was diverted to London Gateway and arrived on 1 January 2016.
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