Container Feeder Barge : A solution for a grounding such as Ever Forward?
Ever Forward grounded on the Chesapeake Bay on March 13, 2022. The current salvage plan includes removal of a large number of containers – loaded and otherwise – to lighten the vessel and assist in re-floating. But, what equipment will be used? It was reported on the YouTube channel What is Going on With Shipping? w/Sal Mercogliano that one of the cranes to be used will be the Columbia New York.
Pictured here at Smith’s Shipyard in Curtis Bay, Maryland, about 15 nautical miles from the Ever Forward, it is apparently undergoing modifications. These modifications are likely necessary as the crane barge reportedly has a 140′ boom along with its 300-short ton lifting capacity
Using the known beam of the vessel (48 meters or 157.5 feet) or the height of the average container (2.6 meters or 8 feet 6 inches) as yardsticks, we can estimate the height of the container stacks on Ever Forward. A boom of 140′ when moored alongside alongside Ever Forward would have difficulty reaching to the highest containers at the sides of the vessel, let alone to stacks further inboard.
So, what is a salvor to do? The answer might come from decades of practice in the land-scarce environs of Hong Kong and Wärtsilä Ship Design. Due to the scarcity of land terminals in the harbor of Hong Kong, China, it became common practice to lighter (load and offload) vessels at anchor or at mooring buoys.
These operations were conducted primarily with the pictured smaller vessels and have been largely supplanted by shoreside terminal operations that have arisen along with the advent of larger and larger container vessels. However, as recently as 2016, UNC Wilmington’s Marine and Coastal Ocean Policy Program looked at the options for just such an operation at the Port of Wilmington, North Carolina. Proposed as an alternative to the infrastructure investment of container terminals, dredging and larger gantry cranes to service Post-Panamax container vessels (up to 366 meters in length and 49 meters in beam), container lightering was studied.
Not only were the economics of mid-stream lightering considered, but safety aspects were, as well.
“Two important factors make using post-Panamax ships in Wilmington Harbor ill-advised. First, it would be unsafe, and impractical, for post-Panamax vessels to navigate the 90° turn…even with the widening improvements on the horizon. Second…the use of post-Panamax vessels loaded to less than capacity is inefficient, and it’s more likely that shipping lines would utilize a neighboring east coast harbor where maximum efficiency is achieved while fully-loaded. Also, inefficiencies and costs would grow if…river pilots needed to rely on tugboats and high tides to provide safe passage for light-loaded post-Panamax vessels…“
The study concludes with a recommendation that, “A realistic, navigationally safe and economical option for the Port of Wilmington to accommodate post-Panamax ships is to utilize lighter barges.”
Lightering barges for containers are relatively unknown in the United States. While container barges are in use for shuttling containers within ports and for shorter runs on the U.S. Maritime Administrations “marine highway,” they are simply deck barges on which containers are stacked. To best facilitate lightering, specific “geared” container barges might be used or barges with specialized container handling equipment might be used in conjunction with the existing deck barges.
One option for a geared container barge, proposed by Wärtsilä Ship Design in 2009, is the port feeder barge (PFB). This self-propelled barge was intended for shuttling work within harbors from terminal to terminal or mid-stream lightering of smaller coastwise vessels. While the design pictured would likely not be able to discharge Ever Forward, a scaled-up version could work well.
Fitted with a specialized container crane, such a barge would be able to load or discharge a container with greater ease than a retrofitted heavylift crane or construction barge. Acting as a mobile container terminal, the container feeder barge would be more efficient to shuttle containers between vessels, terminals or even close-by ports. Requiring no infrastructure investment beyond pier space, a geared container barge would allow the terminals with large gantry cranes to concentrate more efficiently on the larger container vessels, while providing short-sea shipping options with an economical alternative.
Lastly, such barges would provide “capacity.” This isn’t just capacity in the physical sense of extra space, but in the capability to deal with things when they don’t go as planned- like Post-Panamax container vessels running aground on the Chesapeake Bay. As noted in WÄRTSILÄ – TwentyFour7 in 2009, the “PFB can be employed as standby vessel in emergency situations such as grounded container vessels.” There may well be some larger ports in the world considering the need for such capacity after the grounding and salvage of Ever Forward.
Additional Reading and Links
WÄRTSILÄ – TwentyFour7 – A COMMON-SENSE APPROACH TO IN-PORT CONTAINER LOGISTICS (2009)
UNC Wilmington : Lighter Barges: An Alternative to Servicing Post-Panamax Vessels at the Port of Wilmington, NC – Jonathan E. Bingham, Kathryn R. Cyr, Lawrence B. Cahoon (2016)