MOL puts down PCTC marker with Flexie series

MOL’s Flexie generation brings new versatility within a standard Panamax PCTC hull envelope (photo: Marine Traffic/TORI) MOL’s Flexie generation brings new versatility within a standard Panamax PCTC hull envelope (photo: Marine Traffic/TORI)

As one of the pioneers of deepsea transportation of vehicles in dedicated vessels, Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) has put down a new marker for pure car/truck carrier (PCTC) design through the commissioning of the first of its Flexie series of newbuilds. David Tinsley reports.

The Beluga Ace marries a higher level of compartmentalisation and a loading capacity of 6,800 car-equivalent units (CEU) within standard Panamax PCTC dimensions of 199.9m x 32.2m. Besides  a 14-deck configuration, rather than the 12 or 13 that has hitherto mainly applied, six of the decks are of hoistable type, compared with the more usual two or three in conventional Panamax vehicle carriers catering to ‘high and heavy’ cargo.

Notwithstanding the continuity and commonality denoted by a hull envelope determined by the length limitation of 200m at Japanese loading ports and by the maximum beam for transiting the older set of locks on the Panama Canal, the vessel’s rounded, aerodynamic bow shape denotes a departure from the norm.

Beluga Ace set out on her maiden service voyage from Nakanoseki on March 21, bound for Tacoma in the US Pacific Northwest. The vessel heads a class of six ordered from Minaminippon Shipbuilding of Usuki City.

The incorporation of six liftable decks, wherein two adjustable decks can be interposed between two fixed decks, reflects the bid to gain a competitive edge by providing for a broader mix in payloads, with increased scope for larger items of freight, while ensuring cargo handling efficiency.

MOL’s PCTC fleet, under the MOL Auto Carrier Express (ACE)-branded transport service, conveys not only factory-new cars, trucks, buses, agricultural and construction vehicles, locomotives and rolling stock, but also machinery, engineering and power equipment, plant and other heavy cargo lending itself to the ro-ro mode.

Beluga Ace provides the first reference for the revised version of the proprietary MOL-CAPS stowage planning system. MOL-CAPS was originally introduced by the company in 1999, and the upgraded solution applies high-speed processing to the task of making maximum revenue-earning use of the  increased deck area and greater flexibility afforded by the variable-height decks.

MOLS-CAP can be used in offices in Japan and overseas, including ports of call, in conjunction with a global booking system, ensuring that the stowage plan is continually adapted to the latest conditions to ensure optimal loading at every port.

The new bow shape is the product of joint research carried out by MOL and MOL Techno-Trade with Mitsui Zosen’s Akishima Laboratories under the auspices of the ISHIN Next—MOL Smart Ship Project, which is tasked with developing environmental impact-reducing technologies. The research programme builds on an earlier initiative, the Senpaku ISHIN project, launched in 2009, in which MOL participated.

The specific bow form, promising greater course stability by reducing leeway in adverse wind conditions, is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by about 2% relative to current PCTCs. MOL first addressed aerodynamics in vehicle carrier design over 15 years ago, resulting in a rounded bow and bevelled upper deck front on the 2003-built Courageous Ace and subsequent vessels of the fleet.

Among the energy-optimising features of the Flexie generation is the electronically-controlled, two-stroke propulsion engine tuned for low load optimisation using exhaust gas bypass technology. Furthermore, a waste heat energy recovery system has been adopted for the generator engines.

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