Major Canadian investment in Laker fleet
A new generation of self-unloading bulkers applying Algoma’s Equinox concept is entering service on the Great Lakes and St Lawrence. David TInsely reports.
Canadian operator Algoma Central Corporation is pursuing a vigorous policy of modernisation and development of tonnage dedicated to the needs of domestic bulk commodity trades within the Great Lakes and St Lawrence River. Following the introduction in 2013-2014 of the first Lakers incorporating its proprietary Equinox bulker concept, the company is now commissioning the initial vessels in a second programme of Equinox construction, complemented by selective purchases of existing ships and newbuild resales.
Whereas the original series of Equinox ships were gearless bulkers, the latest and forthcoming additions are self-unloading variants. The factors common to the seminal, 38,450dwt Algoma Equinox of 2013 and the current newbuilds are the technologies adopted and dimensioning within the constraints set for passage of the Welland Canal, between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and the St Lawrence Seaway section between Lake Ontario and Montreal.
Notwithstanding production of the new flotilla of self-unloaders at yards in China and Croatia, the projects apply the Canadian maritime sector’s extensive and longstanding know-how in engineering and working large, self-discharging bulkships for the operationally and climatically challenging conditions of North America’s marine highway.
Tailored and optimised to Great Lakes, St Lawrence Seaway and St Lawrence River trade, the vessels embody a high environmental standard, reflected in the adoption of closed-loop, multi-inlet exhaust gas scrubbers, ‘smokeless’ main engine power down to very low loads, water-lubricated stern tube and rudder bearings, and bilge water management systems.
Algoma had launched its Equinox newbuild programme in 2010. The innovative design had been the outcome of Algoma’s project team working for nearly two years in conjunction with Finnish technical consultancy Deltamarin. Contracts were placed at Nantong Mingde covering two gearless dry bulkers and four self-unloaders. The series had also included a further two gearless Equinox carriers ordered by the CWB (formerly the Canadian Wheat Board) for operation and management by Algoma.
In the event, only two of Algoma’s ships, the 38,450dwt gearless sisters Algoma Equinox and Algoma Harvester, were delivered and the company cancelled its remaining orders as a result of the bankruptcy of the Chinese yard in 2015. Refunds of all instalments and related interest were received in 2016 and ploughed back into new capital expenditure entailing seven shipbuilding contracts at Jiangsu Yangzijiang in China and the Uljanik Group in Croatia.
The original class of gearless bulkers, built to the 225.55m (740ft) length control determined by the locks of the Welland and St Lawrence, is currently represented in the Algoma-deployed fleet by four vessels.
The Algoma Equinox and Algoma Harvester were subsequently joined by the G3 Canada-owned G3 Marquis, under Algoma’s management, and then in June 2017 by the Algoma Strongfield. The latter had been ordered at Nantong Mingde by CWB, and was essentially complete as the CWB Strongfield when the shipyard entered bankruptcy protection. Algoma acquired the newbuild at auction in January 2017.
Under the current, second stage of investment in Equinox tonnage, two Equinox 740-class self-unloaders were ordered from the Jiangsu Yangzijiang Group in China, and two Equinox 650 and three Equinox 740 self-dischargers were entrusted to Croatia’s Uljanik Group.
At the beginning of November 2017, the first of the Equinox 740 self-unloaders from Jiangsu Yangzijiang, the 39,000dwt Algoma Niagara, made her debut in the Lower St Lawrence at Sept-Iles, thereafter proceeding to nearby Port Cartier to load a cargo of iron ore destined for Hamilton, on Lake Ontario. She subsequently carried a shipment of metallurgical coal for the steel industry, followed by a grain cargo from Thunder Bay, at the far western Canadian end of the system on Lake Superior. At Seaway draught, the ship’s deadweight capacity is some 29,000dwt.
The second vessel of the pair of newbuilds from Yangzijiang, the Algoma Sault, is expected to arrive in Canada during the early part of the 2018 navigation season.
In addition, one of the Equinox 740 self-unloaders foreseen under the earlier contract with Nantong Mingde has been purchased at auction and is undergoing refurbishment and final construction at Jiangsu Yangzijiang’s Chang Bo facility. She is expected to be completed and delivered in early 2019 as the Algoma Conveyor.
The 740 design is arranged with five hopper-sided holds affording a total cargo capacity of approximately 48,000m3 and accessed through a total of 17 hatchways in characteristic Laker fashion. Such is the strong working partnership developed by Algoma with the Chinese yard, that Yangzijiang also completed the fit-out of the gearless Equinox bulker Algoma Strongfield in March 2017 after her acquisition at auction.
The first of the five self-unloaders ordered from the Uljanik Group, the Equinox 650-type Algoma Innovator, was handed over in mid-December. As the winter season in the North Atlantic does not provide safe conditions for a transit voyage by a Laker, it was decided to schedule the 29,000dwt bulker’s departure from Croatia in mid-February 2018, to be ready for the re-opening of the St Lawrence Seaway in late March.
Construction of the 24,900dwt Algoma Innovator was undertaken at Rijeka, with Uljanik having assigned the build to its wholly-owned 3 Maj yard, from where delivery of second-of-class Algoma Endurance is imminent. The follow-on trio of larger, Equinox 740 newbuilds from Uljanik are expected to be completed by the end of 2018 or early 2019.
The Equinox 650 version embodied by Algoma Innovator has an overall length of 198.4m (650.8ft) and width of 23.8m (78ft), and is intended to strengthen the company’s competitiveness in serving salt and aggregate industrial shippers while offering scope in a range of other bulk commodities.
Given that the ship has been built in an EU country, she contains more European-sourced equipment than the original Equinox bulkers from China, and has been updated with advanced heat recovery systems and a reconfigured exhaust scrubber plant.
Rather than the more usual arrangement whereby the self-unloading, deck conveyor boom is pivoted aft, the Algoma Innovator is equipped with a forward-mounted boom, and is thereby the first new vessel to be so fitted in the past 45 years. Her boom-forward layout is designed to provide greater flexibility in certain delivery situations. It also allows for more space in the engine room than might normally be expected.
The self-unloading system developed and supplied by the Canadian company EMS-Tech is designed to discharge aggregate and salt at a rate of 5,450t per hour. Two gravity-fed conveyors incorporating patented, EMS feeder gates run the length of the cargo section in tunnels under the holds. The cargo is then lifted up using a C-Loop Elevator Conveyor and transferred to the 80m-long, radial discharge boom for delivery ashore. The forward mounting arrangement is intended to afford increased flexibility as to points of discharge.
EMS-Tech was also contracted to supply the self-unloading outfit for the trio of longer, Equinox 740 newbuilds in Croatia. As with the 650 duo, the larger 740-class, at 225.55m (740ft) length overall and 23.8m (78ft) beam, will feature a boom-forward configuration. By comparison, the Chinese-built Algoma Niagara and sister Algoma Sault have the more standard aft mounting of the boom. Also, the supplier differs from that of the Croatian-built vessels, as a MacGregor system was nominated, emulating the arrangements in the previous, aborted contract for self-unloaders from Nantong Mingde. According to MacGregor brand owner Cargotec, the outfit offers a maximum unloading rate of 5,450t/h for stone or iron ore, and 4,360t/h for coal. The complete gravity self-unloading system includes discharge boom, full flow cargo gates, conveyor belts, cross conveyors and C-loop.
The 80m-long, fully-enclosed boom will rotate 90deg port or starboard and up to 20deg from the horizontal to provide maximum flexibility in the placement of granular cargoes at the reception point. This may be a hopper feeding the shore process directly, a storage dome, or a simple concrete pad. The variable frequency drives of the tunnel conveyors and C-loop belts allow variation of belt speeds in accordance with desired discharge rate, while minimising spillage and dust generation.
Algoma Innovator and second-of-class Equinox 650 Algoma Endurance from the 3 Maj yard, plus the nascent Equinox 740 trio, have been specified with exhaust gas scrubber technology pioneered by Algoma on the Great Lakes in its first Equinox-class gearless bulkers.
Supplied by Wärtsilä, the scrubber uses fresh water recirculating in a closed-loop system, and treats the exhaust stream not only from the main machinery, but also the auxiliaries and oil-fired boiler. The aftertreatment solution ensures full compliance with the toughest sulphur emission limits, regardless of the fuel being used, and also satisfies scrubbing water discharge restrictions relating to operation on the Great Lakes. Contaminants are unloaded at shoreside reception facilities.
The main engine is a five-cylinder model of the WinGD RT-flex50 design in its D version, employing electronically-controlled common-rail technology for fuel injection, and manufactured under licence on site by Uljanik Strojogrodnja. The maximum continuous output is just under 7,000kW, with direct drive to a controllable pitch propeller, for a laden speed of 14 knots. Electrical energy is derived from three Wärtsilä Auxpac gensets based on 1,100kW 6L20 diesels, and the Wärtsilä package also includes the bow and stern thrusters.
Complementing the current newbuild programme, the Canadian firm purchased four Lakers from US operator American Steamship Company towards the end of December. All will be switched to the Canadian registry for duties on the Great Lakes and St Lawrence system. Two of the vessels, the self-unloaders Buffalo (193.2m/634ft) and Adam E Cornelius (207.3m/680ft) dating from 1978 and 1973, respectively, will expand the river-class segment of Algoma’s domestic bulker fleet, creating more versatility in serving trades in salt, aggregates and other commodities.
Two veteran, steam turbine-powered Lakers included in the deal, the 218.5m (717ft) American Victory, constructed in 1943 and rebuilt in 1961, and the 1953-built, 228.6m (750ft) American Valor, have spent recent years in layup. Algoma has yet to confirm its plans for these two vessels, and considers that the options include repowering as motorships, conversion to articulated tug barges (ATBs), or reconstruction whereby the forebodies and cargo sections would be mated with new stern sections.
Headquartered in St Catherines, Ontario, Algoma Central Corporation controls the largest Canadian-flag fleet deployed on the Great Lakes/St Lawrence Seaway network, comprising self-unloaders, gearless dry bulkers and product tankers.
The company also owns ocean-going self-dischargers, boosted by secondhand panamax and handymax self-unloader acquisitions in 2015, and has expanded into international shortsea markets through interests in cement carrier and minibulker operations. In fact, Algoma’s strategic vision is two-fold: to grow its position in the Great Lakes/St Lawrence bulk commodity traffic, and to become a leader in shortsea shipping sectors globally.
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