Ocean Freight Needs A Leap Forward

I was on a liveaboard dive holiday from Singapore last weekend. It was a perfect getaway for a nature lover like me. Located in the heart of Southeast Asia, a number of world-class diving destinations are only a short sail away from Singapore. The MV White Manta (our ship) crew, as always, provided a great diving experience. That said I couldn’t help but think about the realities of our current shipping technology and how seemingly slow Ocean Freight’s development is as compared to what technological advances I see elsewhere in everyday life. 

The MV White Manta is a brand new ship! Built in China and launched just months ago, it’s 150 feet long by 30 feet wide and fitted with great living quarters and all the trappings of a hotel on water. That said, what’s powering this moving hotel were two 450hp diesel engines. Those provided our ship a cruising speed of 10 knots per hour, and if my estimation is correct, they drink down about 15 litres of diesel per nautical mile. It seems too much for too little in this day and age! 

No doubt, water is a tough element to transport in because of the tremendous amount of friction and drag it gives off. It is a huge engineering challenge in shipmaking today to build vessals that can sail faster and more effeciently. It seems in the past 50 years, we’ve moved forward in design and engineering for many key transport sectors (airplanes and even automobiles); meanwhile even though ships transport more than 90% of all cargo tonnage, there is very little visible development on the horizon that replaces the basic diesel engine and steel hull. 


[Image: Ocean Freight Ship Technology]

To understand more about the complexity and size of the challenge, check out this article in the OECD Observer.

Technical Advances in Ocean Freight

While we may not be replacing the diesel engine and steel hull any time soon, I did read in The Economist recently that there is research being done to reduce the amount of drag in water. For example, a special paint allows freight ships to stay barnacle-free and thus less draggy; but alas, according to a mariner friend of mine, it comes with some environmental issues. There are also wind generators that can charge batteries so ships can sail with hybridized engines. These advances can shave perhaps 3% here and maybe 10% there, but all these savings then get nullified by ratcheting up the speed, which burns fuel faster. There has been no large technological leap in Ocean Freight Forwarding like the Tesla in auto manufacturing or even the Boeing 787, which reduces fuel consumption from 20% to 30%.


[Image: Port-Liner Electric Barge]

Ocean Freight Forwarding & Climate Change

There is a sobering analogy that says if the current global ocean fleet were a country, it would produce more green house gases than Canada! I therefore am making this sincere appeal to all inventors out there to look into revolutionizing ocean freight companies. Improvements in the marine segment would make a huge impact in reducing green house gases and slow down the pace of climate change significantly.


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