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Tue 1 May 2007 12:44 PM

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Ask the expert: Paul Welling

What challenges do the new generation of ships pose for port authorities developing in the Middle East?


What challenges do the new generation of ships pose for port authorities developing in the Middle East?


Paul Welling

General Manager, Fentek Middle East


Changes in shipping patterns and ship dimensions are providing a number of challenges for suppliers of mooring systems. Until quite recently, the size of container ships was limited by the size of the locks of the Panama Canal, which offered the shortest route from Asia to the east coast of the United States. That meant they could be no larger than 300 meters long and 32 metres wide. But a change in the direction of trade flows has had a major effect on the shipping industry.

"Not too long ago, container ships were carrying some 2000 standard containers. But now trade is booming between Asia, the Middle East and Europe via the Suez Canal.

Today, we already have 10,000 TEU ships and ships with 12,000 TEU are being built. Consequently, the standard 300-metre berth for a Panamax container ship in many harbours is no longer adequate. The newest ships are nearly 400 meters long and need deeper berths to accommodate draughts up to 15 meters. Cranes used to reach across ships which were 12 containers wide. Now they may have to reach across 22 containers.

In addition, there has been massive growth in the size of liquefied natural gas (LNG) transporters as a result of new liquefaction technology, and new routes have been opened up as higher energy costs make remote gas reserves commercially viable.

The Middle East, for example, has huge gas reserves, and has invested heavily in infrastructure upgrading, however, West Africa also has significant reserves - but with limited infrastructure it provides major challenges for regional ports, harbours and shipowners.

Expanding ship sizes and mass place increasing demands on fenders, and there is one easy answer: simply make the fenders bigger. But this does not suit all operators. Every extra metre of crane outreach costs more than US$100,000, and with at least four cranes per container ship, the demand is to make fenders slimmer.

For example, early post-Panamax ships were 17 containers wide, while later vessels squeezed in 18 containers. Port and harbour operators do not want to buy new cranes just for that, so the extra space has to be saved on the fender.

Shipping companies also want to optimise ship designs by using lighter construction and less steel, and that means hulls can withstand less pressure. The same easy answer - making fenders bigger - is not always practical.

We now have to make fenders that are softer, gentler and more efficient. Fender manufacturers are addressing the challenges of large harbours, with new technologies and safe engineered solutions being developed and deployed.

Integrated systems for safe berthing and mooring are crucial to the development of Middle Eastern port infrastructure. For example, a laser docking system measures the speed and angle of approach of tankers and container ships during the final 200 metres of berthing.

The system gives early warning of problems and allows berthing to be aborted if conditions are not right. This not only reduces the risk of accidents and damage, but also improves harbor operating efficiency with better turnaround times.


Paul Welling is the general manager of Fentek Middle East. Fentek is a dedicated maritime division of Trelleborg Marine Systems. The firm has provided advanced fendering, berthing and mooring solutions to commercial ports and harbours across the globe for over 30 years.



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