A Floating Container Port

Scapa Flow is synonymous with the Royal Navy but plans announced recently might see it recognised as the ‘greenest’ container port in the world.

This is one of my favourite subjects to write about and one which we and those interested in defence, tend to forget, the subject?

Logistics

Back to Scapa Flow

Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands could become the world’s greenest post if a clever plan that has been drawn up by researchers from Edinburgh Napier University’s Transport Research Institute (TRI) is adopted.

The blueprint for the transhipment port could also could bring ‘substantial’ benefits to Scotland’s economy.

The TRI estimate that the floating hub, which consists of a large storage vessel fitted with cranes, could nearly double the current £16bn value of Scotland’s exports of manufactured goods and that spin-off jobs would also be created for Scotland as the hub’s host nation.

At around £40m, the proposed floating port,  called the Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal or FCSTT,  would cost around £80m less to build than a conventional land-based port offering similar capacity.

This caught my eye, is there a military and secondary  relief role for such a capability?

If we look back at initial operations in Iraq and enabling the port of Um Qasr to such a level that it could accept larger bulk stores and container vessels, operational tempo was definitely restricted because volume offload capacity was unavailable for some time until the port area could be cleared of mines and other hazards to navigation.

If a container vessel cannot dock it cannot offload, simplistic I know, but worth saying.

What the proposed Scapa Flow Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal system does is provide a floating transhipment capability, putting a storage and handling buffer in between vessels.

In the context of an amphibious operation, container handling is generally not something done, at least in any form of throughput. The Albion and Bay class generally speaking move palletised materials, vehicles and personnel using combinations of landing craft, helicopters and mexeflotes. It is a one shot deal, especially as the UK does not have much in the way of ship to ship transfer systems that would enable equipment and stores to be cross decked between the Bay’s and for example, a civilian charted cargo vessel or the Points class RORO’s.

The general thinking is that there exists enough amphibious capacity for theatre entry, the objective of this is usually to secure a deep water port with sufficient handling capacities/capabilities for the follow on bulk stores and vehicles. Operations may of course move directly to the sustainment phase, not every operation is preceded with an amphibious approach, but the fact remains that port facilities are a bottleneck and likely to become more vulnerable because of consolidation in ports, increasing size of container vessels etc.

Smaller feeder vessels can reach more ports and if the that feeder is a Bay class then it can move inshore after loading and either dock directly, or use its mexeflotes to transfer to shore.

The system makes the assumption that high capacity, deep draught, port facilities are not available, in this context that could be due to enemy action denying it, natural disasters or one simply not being available in the desired or optimal location. The FCSTT would be located offshore or some distance from hazardous areas.

The FCSTT is flexible because it supports two modes of operation.

Mode 1 is using it as simply a floating crane to transfer containers from one vessel to another in a single operation. This needs the feeder and larger main vessels to be in the same place at the same time, typically this would be a civilian charter container vessel but could be one of the Points class although they are a RORO not cellular container design.

Modes 2 provides a storage element, the larger vessel can be offloaded and containers stored on the FCSTT ready for the lighters to arrive at a point in time that is operationally convenient.

A couple of design concepts were considered, taking into account container vessel size, crane reach and other factors.

The first design concept considered a barge and travelling portal crane design.

The barge concept provided for the most flexibility using existing crane designs. It could easily transfer containers from a 13 container wide Panamax ship to either an 8 or 10 row feeder or lighter. If a wider barge were used it would provide greater storage capacity but given the limitations of existing cranes would not allow direct transfer from a 13 row container ship to one with 10 rows. In this context, this compromise might be acceptable.

The throughput of a twin barge, twin travelling gantry crane system would, based on a 20 hour operation time, be in the order of 740 moves. These moves either being directly from the main vessel to feeder or from the main vessel to barge storage/barge storage to feeder, or any combination in between.

The second concept considered conversion of a surplus Panamax container ship, fitting it with 4 pedestal cranes instead of the travelling portal cranes on the barge.

The conversion would be self deploying and offer a greater throughput than the barge option but would need larger cranes even to reach an 8 row feeder vessel and would be more costly in capital and operational terms.

Throughput has been estimated at 1488 moves per 20 hour day.

Each design concept has pros and cons, the barge system would seem to offer greater operational flexibility but is hampered by an inability to self deploy and has a smaller throughput than the converted container ship.  Both design concepts envisage the assembly being used offshore but the barge system, with its shallow draught, could easily be moored alongside an existing harbour facility and used to offload container vessels direct to shore.

Not all ports have the ability for high throughput container offload so what would in essence be a simple floating crane would give logistic planners many more options.

The TRI and Gottwald study details can be found here

Floating cranes are nothing new or revolutionary but have been concentrated on bulk cargo’s rather than containers as this PDF demonstrates, but the adoption of civilian port technology to a military context is something definitely worthy of consideration. Logmarin, Swire and Liebherr also have similar concepts.

The TRI/Gottwald study is excellent, it would appear to be eminently practical and at an estimated cost of £30-40 million, depending on chosen option, within the realms of fiscal possibility.

With the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainment (MARS) programme still having an aspiration for a Joint Sea Based Logistics Vessel is this something worth looking at as a complimentary capability or as part of the technology matrix.

Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal-Concept Narrow Barge
Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal – Concept Narrow Barge
Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal - Concept 1 Narrow Barge
Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal – Concept 1 Narrow Barge
Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal - Concept 1 Narrow Barge
Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal – Concept 1 Narrow Barge
Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal - Concept 1 Narrow Barge
Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal – Concept 1 Narrow Barge
Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal - Concept 2 Panamax Conversion
Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal – Concept 2 Panamax Conversion
Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal - Concept 2 Panamax Conversion
Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal – Concept 2 Panamax Conversion
Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal - Concept 2 Panamax Conversion
Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal – Concept 2 Panamax Conversion

 

19 Comments
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Jed
Jed
April 15, 2011 2:27 pm

As per usual I will be very cagey and respond to your question (is it something worth looking at) by referring back to the lack of any real grand strategy by HMG, or real strategic vision for the use of our Armed Forces.

If we had proper strategies in place to decide our missions, capabilities and force structure, then we could figure out if there was a requirement to shift large amounts of containers ashore to support some unknown type of operation. Are our forces going to be smaller and more constrained in what they do – almost certainly – thus do they need this kind of logistical back up in the future ? Who knows.

Personally as someone who is a huge proponent of a maritime centric strategy, and a indeed a greater emphasis on our amphibious capability as a ‘strategic niche’ role which we can fulfill both within NATO and ad hoc coalitions, I say YES, we should invest in this. I would very neatly supplement the US capability to build large piers (which you have written about before).

Obviously I also like to feed your container fetish….. but seriously, those containers could be living modules, armoured “magazine” containers, whatever we can dream up – containerised logistics is the future !

paul g
April 15, 2011 3:31 pm

i would go one step further and stick the legs that the wind turbine placing ships use, that way the barge/converted ship becomes a stable platform. I’m no salty seadog but wouldn’t that provide a better facility ie RORO could dock and the crane operation not effected by bad weather. Open to be shot down!!!

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
April 15, 2011 3:51 pm

It seems such a simple idea, I’m surprised no-one has thought of it before. It seems that the high-water mark for this sort of logistical equipment was the Mulberry Harbours used during Operation Overlord, since then so much seems to have been ignored or forgotten.

If, as has been surmised in the “The Next Move in Libya” thread, NATO is considering landing troops at Misrata, then something like this – used until the dockside and inner harbour has been made safe for shipping – would be very useful indeed.

:
Yes, without a Grand Strategy, we wouldn’t know when we would need to use a floating port. But equally likely we can guarrantee that either with HMG’s liking for military adventurism, or the chances of a major earthquake hitting a coastal area, we will need this facility at some point – and need it fast once the situation unfolds.

Maybe our Grand Strategy should be “Expect the Unexpected”!

Mike
Mike
April 15, 2011 4:04 pm

Interesting, and glad to see green alternatives upcoming, though protecting something like that would be a task alright, but we do have similar experiance of that too.

Brian
Brian
April 15, 2011 6:56 pm

The SS Empire Elgar and others were used as crane ships in damaged Russian ports during the Arctic convoys. Don’t the Americans have Keystone class T-ACS craneships already?

RW
RW
April 15, 2011 7:56 pm

I had problems with the report link and used this one

http://www.tri-napier.org/images/stories/events/TRI-ICS_Forum/1.fcstt_design.pdf

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
April 15, 2011 8:51 pm

@ RW – thanks for that!

Chris.B.
April 16, 2011 1:04 am

It’s quite a clever set up TD. Perhaps a little too clever for the MoD though.

leesea
leesea
April 16, 2011 5:04 am

The US Navy suffers from container handling problems as well. Our amphibs are not basically equipped to handle containers efficiently. That misison is “left” for sealift ships which of course the amphibs are NOT interoperable with.

The concept you desribe reminds me of the Intermediate Transfer Station concept which the USN looked and of course bastardized into the MLP.

Even the quite capable T-ACS Crane Ships are being paid off. They were specifically meant to Lo/Lo containers at sea between ships.

Bob Perry
Bob Perry
April 16, 2011 8:18 pm

An excellent article, the military already have mobile workshops, storage containers etc and a way of transferring containers at sea would be useful. The barge concept looks slightly unstable due to the height of the crane. Adding a wind turbine for power would make it truly green.

A different Gareth
A different Gareth
April 17, 2011 3:52 pm

If the floating container port were semi-submersible would that make it more stable against the action of waves?

Taking a cue from RP Flip I’m wondering if you could take the jack-up boat idea and have a submarine shaped wessel under each row of legs. Flood them and extend the legs downwards keeping the barge part on the surface. No idea how big they would have to be but if you made it similar to a stripped out diesel sub under each row of legs you could have propulsion as well. Give them a more streamlined shape and you could have a craft that transits like a pontoon or swath boat and then submerges the two hulls leaving the barge and cranes on the surface.

RW
RW
April 18, 2011 9:55 am

TD

The one thing I don’t think is sorted is how to handle the quagmire that would result from vehicles leaving the sea logistics chain and entering the land domain through the constricted end of a pontoon bridge. At the rate of movements that have been imagined how many days would a section of beach take to become impassable to even all terrain vehicles? Especially those with weighty containers !.

Also, even with a wealth of container handling kit, the storage areas would be very large given the inability to stack high on undeveloped ground. Have these aspects been considered ? if you go back to the Mulberry era I don’t think the transports would have given the terrain the hammering we would expect from an impromptu container port.

a
a
April 18, 2011 4:58 pm

The one thing I don’t think is sorted is how to handle the quagmire that would result from vehicles leaving the sea logistics chain and entering the land domain through the constricted end of a pontoon bridge

Well, maybe; depends what you’re unloading it onto. Across an open beach that would definitely be a problem, but it could be the case that you’re unloading into a small harbour or fishing port.

As for the need for it, it seems like the sort of thing we’ll find a need for; and in between times it definitely has potential for civilian use.

Alex
Alex
April 24, 2011 1:23 pm

The USN response to the Haitian earthquake is full of interesting stuff of this sort, notably those craneships, various Seabasing kit, and their tanker-terminal-in-a-box gear, which came in a MARAD ship so old she’s actually SS…rather than MV…

Paul
Paul
April 30, 2011 3:48 pm

From watching a program about the ships that place wind-turbines, they have to be very careful when they are jacking up in case one or more of the legs hits a soft patch and IIRC, there are potential scour issues which mean they cannot stay jacked up for too long.

Amah Essiet
Amah Essiet
June 30, 2011 11:41 pm

The Floating Container Storage and Transhipment Terminal or FCSTT will go a long way in mitigating the problems of land scarcity that never fails to plague marine terminal development,berth scarcity when marine traffic gets busy,rate and wharfage issues, and insufficient infrastructure to deal with the new taller, larger, so-called super/mega ships.