US remains cool about Diesel power

01 Mar 2014
Machinery control room in ‘Mississippi Maru’, said to be the world’s most automated ship

Machinery control room in ‘Mississippi Maru’, said to be the world’s most automated ship

The lead article in The Motor Ship, March 1964, suggested that the Diesel engine had been accepted as preferred ship propulsion technology everywhere except the USA.

There, cheap and plentiful supplies of fuel and state subsidies for shipping meant that there was little incentive to move away from the less efficient steam turbines. Indeed, turbine manufacturers had been active in promoting the economies of steam (falsely, as our predecessors noted) alongside the alleged higher costs of maintaining large Diesel engines. In fact, the widely-held belief among the US shipping community was that steam was only likely to be challenged by the gas turbine, a medium whose promise was still to be fulfilled.

It has to be admitted that the Americans may have had a point. Although maintenance intervals for large Diesels were nowhere near as frequent as the steam turbine companies claimed, the article did admit that piston overhaul recommendations of 7,00-8,000 hours were common, though one builder- B&W – had indicated that cylinder overhaul intervals of 14,000 hours would be possible in the future.

However, the 1964 editorial team pointed out that taking all factors into account there was little justification for persisting with steam turbines for mainstream ship propulsion. Installation costs, as well as fuel costs, favoured Diesel power. And even then, manpower costs were significant, another area where Diesel triumphed, particularly with the growth in automation permitting fewer engine room hands (although The Motor Ship, 1964 vintage, considered a reduction in engine room complement to 14 was unrealistic).

The conclusion was that the US had to wake up to the true economic picture. Could the owners of 94 steamers completed the previous year be right, and those of 1,907 motor vessels all be wrong?

Although tankers were the main focus in March 1964, several articles related to the growth in automation. A 12,000dwt cargo ship, Mississippi Maru, recently completed by Kawasaki in Japan, was seen as remarkable in requiring a 29-man total crew complement. This, claimed to be the world’s most highly-automated ship, featured innovations such as a machinery control room, based on four pre-programmed modes for manoeuvring, departure, navigation and manual control. Engine start-up procedures were pre-programmed. Air and fuel quantities could be automatically set to suit conditions of speed an draught, again using automatic sensors. Similar automation levels were provided for auxiliary systems, with monitors providing automatic printouts, relieving engineers of tedious log-keeping duties. Even with this level of automation, it was not thought necessary to provide bridge controls for the main engines, the thinking being that this was pointless as regulations required a certificated engineer to be in the engine room during each watch.

The additional cost of the automated systems was estimated at some £90,000, with one third of this paid through a research grant, and most of the remainder expected to be recovered through operational economies.

Back to more conventional vessels, a boom in trade between the UK and Europe had resulted in the entry into service of a ro-ro vessel, Gaelic Ferry, built by Swan Hunter for service between Tilbury and Antwerp/Rotterdam. The design was said to exploit the convenience of drive-on/drive off freight, but even so all loading/unloading was via a single stern opening and ramp, and an area beneath the vehicle deck was provided for containers. Machinery comprised a twin-screw plant based on two Sulzer 10TAD36 two-stroke engines, with a total rated power of 5,200bhp at 300rpm. This gave a service speed of 16knots, significantly faster than other ships in similar service. Twin aft rudders and a single bow rudder aided manoeuvring.