New stage in revitalisation of Canada’s great lakes/seaway fleet

‘Algoma Equinox’ is the latest addition to Canada’s largest Great Lakes fleet ‘Algoma Equinox’ is the latest addition to Canada’s largest Great Lakes fleet

A new generation of Deltamarin-designed bulk carriers optimised for trade on the Great Lakes and St Lawrence Seaway which has been phased into service by Canadian operator Algoma Central Corporation is described by David Tinsley

The 37,500dwt Algoma Equinox heralds a major fleet modernisation and revitalisation programme entailing eight newbuilds of the Equinox class to be constructed by China’s Nantong Mingde shipyard. Having completed a full transit of the waterway system just before the winter closure, the lead vessel’s passage through the Welland Canal on March 28 signalled the opening of the 2014 navigation season.

The design is the product of a two-year development project by Algoma in conjunction with Finnish technical consultancy Deltamarin, and has reset the bar for both operational and environmental performance in the ‘Laker’ category. Companies who operate vessels on the world’s largest freshwater system have to meet especially rigorous environmental standards, and this has coloured fleet planning in conjunction with the fundamental competitive need for raised levels of cost efficiency.

A 45% improvement in energy efficiency over Algoma’s current fleet average is expected, resulting from a range of measures prominently featuring the adoption of an electronically-controlled, IMO Tier II-compliant main engine, and a design that embodies an improved hull form and increased cargo capacity. The efficiency gain yielded by this circumspect approach to ship design and engineering, with its implications for long-term business competitiveness, also translates into substantially lessened environmental impact in terms of ‘greenhouse’ gas emissions per cargo tonne-kilometre.

In addition, the seminal adoption of a closed loop exhaust gas scrubber will eradicate virtually all emissions of sulphur oxides (SOx). The Wärtsilä installation in Algoma Equinox is claimed to constitute the first application of an IMO-approved, integrated scrubber on a vessel built specifically for the Great Lakes/St Lawrence traffic.

The system enables the new vessel to continue to burn heavy fuel oil (HFO) while complying with mandatory SOx limits in the IMO Emission Control Area (ECA) covering Canadian and US waters, where the cap is set to fall from 1.0% to 0.1% fuel sulphur content on 1 January 2015.

The Equinox class newbuild series comprises eight Seaway-max ships in two configurations, albeit employing the same hull design and technical concept, with the differences in specification arising from the adoption of a self-discharging capability in four of the bulkers.

Algoma Equinox is a gearless dry bulker, as will be the three subsequent vessels, while the second batch of four ships will be self-unloaders, offering greater flexibility in working cargoes to ports and berths throughout the Lakes and Seaway system. Two of the gearless ships will be owned by CWB, formerly the Canadian Wheat Board, but operated and managed by Algoma. The six vessels ordered by Algoma for its own account entail a total investment of C$300m, made up of approximately C$230m in contractual payments to the yard with the balance being other construction costs.

The imminent arrival in Canada of the second gearless bulker, Algoma Harvester, is scheduled to be followed later in 2014 by the two CWB vessels. The four Algoma self-unloaders are expected to be commissioned over the course of 2015. The Equinox class delivery schedule as a whole has slipped at Nantong Mingde, but there are no reported problems as to quality, workmanship or cost over-runs.

Deltamarin was responsible for basic and detail design of the vessels and also provided procurement support. Although the Equinox class has been developed specifically for Algoma, the hull form derives from Deltamarin’s B.Delta standard bulkers, which have enjoyed broad market success due to the combination of improved cubic capacity and lower fuel consumption relative to competing designs, coupled with reduced lightweight. The Equinox series balances hull form, power and speed with operating performance and environmental criteria.

The main engine is a five-cylinder model of the Wärtsilä RT-flex50 design in its D version, employing electronically-controlled common-rail technology for fuel injection. Intelligent combustion control monitors and tunes performance automatically and continuously. The maximum continuous output is just under 7,000kW, with direct drive to a controllable pitch propeller, for a laden service speed up to 14 knots.

Electrical energy is derived from three Wärtsilä Auxpac gensets based on 1,100kW 6L20 diesels, the Auxpac concept being one of pre-engineered and pre-commissioned, modularised sets on common base frames.

Wärtsilä supplied an entire powering and propulsion solution tailored to Algoma’s requirements, which included not only the main and auxiliary machinery, main propeller and SOx exhaust cleaning system, but also the propulsion control system, bow thruster, and oily water separator, plus engineering services. The shipowner said the major reason for choosing Wärtsilä was its capability to provide both an integrated equipment package and global service support.

Algoma Equinox is distinguished by the adoption of sophisticated, exhaust gas aftertreatment technology. The scrubber works with fresh water recirculating in a closed loop system, as the first of its kind on the Great Lakes. Manufactured using stainless steel, the Wärtsilä SOx reducer, developed in cooperation with the Finnish company Metso, treats emissions not only from the main engine, but also the auxiliaries and the thermal oil heater. Suction fans combine the exhaust gases from the various sources before they are fed to the scrubber unit. Each branch in the suction system has shut-off valves, allowing individual exhaust and flue pipes to be isolated, so maintaining operational flexibility.

Exhaust gas enters the scrubber and is sprayed with fresh water mixed with caustic soda (NaOH), causing a reaction which neutralises the SOx washed out of the exhaust. The level of effectiveness equates to the removal of 97% of SOx and 75% of particulate matter (PM). A small amount of scrubbing water is continuously extracted and treated. Cleaned effluent can either be discharged overboard with no harm to the environment, or led to a holding tank for scheduled and periodic release. Contaminants are unloaded at appropriate shoreside reception facilities.

The efficacy of the scrubber plant is complemented by the improved environmental credentials conferred by the Tier II generation of electronically-controlled, common-rail propulsion machinery exemplified by the RT-flex50 type, which produces less NOx than earlier designs and which gives ’smokeless’ operation down to very low loads.

The optimised hull form and sternship section maximises water flow to the large, 6m diameter propeller, designed with recourse to model tank testing. Immediately abaft the propeller, a Costa bulb integrated into the rudder improves hydrodynamic efficiency by reducing hub vortex losses. The overall optimisation process has imbued more speed for less installed power. A contributor to hull efficiency is the use of underwater ‘hard’ coatings, creating a smoother surface and reducing drag.

A 70° rudder angle is an asset to manoeuvring in the fairways, lock channels, and multifarious docks and berths throughout the waterway system. The ship’s manoeuvrability gains substantially from a 1,200kW bow thruster capacity, representing an advance of about 60% in power relative to previous vessels built for the Great Lakes.

The use of water lubricated stern tube and rudder bearings instead of oil lubrication eliminates an oil-water interface with its attendant risk of pollutant leakage. An integrated bilge water management system is employed. Oil and water waste are segregated at source, the rationale being that less mixing means a reduced need to separate and a consequentially lowered risk of pollution.

The new ‘Lakers’ have been conceived for all the main commodity flows serving North American industry, including iron ore, coal, grain, construction materials and salt.

The five holds, accessed through a total of 17 hatchways, have been designed to reduce areas where cargo can hang up during discharge. Deck arches conventionally located within the cargo spaces have been replaced by strengthened hatch coaming structures that not only protect against the potential fall hazard but also maximise cubic capacity and stowage.

The four self-unloaders in the newbuild series will each be equipped with cargo handling gear designed and supplied by MacGregor. The arrangements are based in each case on multiple full flow gates, gravity-fed twin tunnel belt conveyors, two cross conveyors, single C-Loop elevator system and enclosed discharge boom. The highly automated system allows one-man operation at discharge rates of up to 5,450 tonnes/hour (stone and ore). Both tunnel conveyors and C-Loop belts feature variable frequency drives, permitting belt speeds to be matched to the requisite discharge rate, while reducing spillage and dust generation to negligible levels.

An 80m-long, fully enclosed discharge boom, minimising dust release into the environment, will rotate 90° port or starboard and up to 20° from the horizontal, so as give maximum flexibility in the placement of granular cargoes at the receiving facility. The reception point may be a hopper feeding the shore process directly, a storage dome or a simple concrete pad.

Recent years’ increased investment by Canadian operators, including the Equinox-class programme, has been abetted by the 2010 decision of the federal government to remove a 25% tariff on imported vessels, making the renewal of the Canadian domestic fleet economically feasible.

Headquartered in St Catherines, Ontario, Algoma Central Corporation owns and operates the largest Canadian-flag fleet of bulkers and tankers on the Great Lakes/St Lawrence Seaway, encompassing self-unloaders, gearless dry bulkers and product tankers. Domestic shipping operations have been strengthened by the acquisition of vessels and partnership interests of the Upper Lakes Group. Algoma also has interests in ocean-going tonnage, and owns a shiprepair and steel fabrication facility in Port Colborne, at the Lake Erie entrance to the Welland Canal.


Length overall 225.55m
Length bp 226.06m
Breadth, moulded 23.77m
Depth, moulded 14.70m
Total deadweight @9.51m draught (summer, fresh water) 37,500 (long tons)
Gross tonnage 23,895gt
Holds 5
Hold capacity 47,952m³
Main engine power (MCR) 6,929kW
Service speed (loaded) 14 knots
Auxiliaries 3 x 1,100kW
Bow thruster 1,200kW
Class Lloyd’s Register
Flag Canada


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