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?
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.
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.