WWL's next-generation ro-ro in detail

Wider in the beam and with greater cargo range and capacity than earlier ships, Thermopylae gives new dimensions to a high-profile fleet Wider in the beam and with greater cargo range and capacity than earlier ships, Thermopylae gives new dimensions to a high-profile fleet

Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics has introduced the first of its exceptionally versatile HERO class of post-Panamax vessels. David Tinsley reports.

Giving first form to a new generation of deep-sea ro-ro/vehicle carriers embodying the Post-Panamax High Efficiency RoRo (HERO) design concept, the 75,245gt Thermopylae was recently phased into Asia/Europe service with Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL).

Capable of taking a maximum car payload of about 8,000 car-equivalent units (CEUs), while offering considerable flexibility for a variety of vehicles and other wheeled or trailer-borne cargo, Thermopylae leads a series of four ordered by Oslo-based Wilh.Wilhelmsen from Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries in Mokpo, South Korea.

Four further vessels of the HERO type, but with differences in technical specification, have been contracted by Wallenius Lines, Wilhelmsen’s Swedish partner in WWL, from Chinese builder Tianjin Xingang Shipyard. The entire, eight-vessel WWL programme is due to be completed in 2017.

Such is the extent of cargo carrying capability offered by the new class that the ro-ro designation is more apt than the PCTC (pure car/truck carrier) categorisation. Compared to preceding Panamax PCTCs of 6,400/6,500CEU capacity, the wider-beam HERO type achieves a reduction of some 10-15% in fuel consumption per cargo unit.

The advance in carrying capacity has been accompanied by increased freight intake versatility and an improved environmental footprint. The scope for a broader range of ro-ro consignments as well as vehicular mix has been complemented by increased trading and routing possibilities conferred through a relatively shallow draught. The design as a whole reflects the evolving nature of industry needs and customer demands, as well as changes in the structure of the global automotive trade and new opportunities in project cargo transportation.

Thermopylae cut her teeth on an itinerary starting in the Japanese port of Hitachinaka, on the east coast of Honshu, and ending in Bremerhaven, a dynamic hub of the international car trade.

The beam constraint set by the Panama Canal has hitherto dictated a fundamental parameter in the design of PCTCs, as with other vessel types. Consequently, the enlargement scheme for the waterway, with its considerably wider locks, provided the spur for WWL’s design project, enabling the beam to be taken out to 36.5m, approximately 4.3m more than that of today’s Panamax vessels.

In seizing the opportunity to raise capacity, the designers also sought to better adapt the design to developing and anticipated trading needs. “Now that we have the freedom to expand the width of our carriers, we can also implement other improvements as well, so we began a process of wide consultation with out customers, maritime authorities and technical experts,” explained Geir Fagerheim, head of fleet management at WWL. “The challenge was to come up with an optimal design that could not only offer increased capacity and greater flexibility, but also reduced consumption and carbon emissions.”

Although the new Panama locks will accommodate vessels up to 366m in length, the overall length of the HERO hull has been kept within 200m, dictated by existing restrictions in some Japanese ports. The shallower draught, at 10.6m scantling and just 9.1m on design draught, is apposite to increasing globalisation and its impact on trade routes and the need to access ports in many developing countries where depth can often be an issue.

High and heavy 

The initial design development phase began in 2010, as a collaborative project between WWL and the technical departments of Wallenius Marine and Wilh.Wilhelmsen. Input from serving seafarers also helped shape the project.

One of the key demands from customers was an improvement in both capacity and flexibility, to accommodate a much greater and wider variety of cargo. The HERO type accordingly features five liftable car decks, and four strengthened decks for ‘high and heavy’ and breakbulk freight, out of a total of 13 cargo decks. This allows for multiple payload configurations and optimises space and storage capacity, with all cargo transference effected across the 320t capacity quarter ramp.

The ‘high and heavy’ category encompasses multifarious vehicles such as buses and trucks, locomotives and rolling stock, and the range of agricultural and construction vehicles and machinery, besides long, tall and otherwise voluminous or heavy pieces of freight such as machine parts, generators, turbines, and industrial plant, or trailer-borne forestry goods.

Commenting on market prospects in February this year, Wilh.Wilhelmsen’s president and chief executive officer Jan Eyvin Wang said “Demand for deep-sea transportation of cars and high and heavy units has been quite stable for some time. We have, however, had challenges related to general rate pressure and unfavourable cargo and trade mix. Adjusting fleet capacity to demand for transportation is a top priority for us. Introducing cargo-, bunker- and operationally-efficient vessels contributes to positioning the group for future growth.” Designing vessels for the future is a cornerstone of company strategy.

Significantly, the drive for lower emissions came not only from the owners and operator, in the interests of enhanced energy efficiency and regulatory compliance and as a reflection of corporate environmental culture. It was also a response to the requirement of many customers seeking to reduce the carbon footprint of freight movement throughout the logistic chain.

Hull lines’ optimisation and model tank tests were carried out to ensure optimum performance over a range of draughts and speed ranges, reflecting the anticipated operating profile. The vessel features a novel bow design, to reduce wave resistance, a Promas integrated propeller and rudder system, decreasing drag and improving surrounding water flow, and an MAN two-stroke propulsion engine that affords greater fuel-burning efficacy across the load, speed and draught ranges.

In addition, the ship has been fitted with a Wartsila exhaust cleaning system that allows the main engine to be run on heavy fuel oil while reducing sulphur emissions to below 0.1% in compliance with the new IMO Emission Control Area (ECA) regulatory requirements. This system also removes over 70% of particulate matter (PM) while significantly reducing NOx. Being of the hybrid type, it allows operation in closed-loop mode while in port, using fresh water to remove the impurities from the gas, as well as serving in open-loop mode at sea, using only sea water, and re-oxygenating the water before discharge overside.

Unfettered operation 

The nomination of Wartsila technology follows Wilh.Wilhelmsen’s retrofit on the Tarago in 2012 of what was at the time the world’s largest multi-stream scrubber. The shipowner also commissioned Marintek to undertake in-service, third-party verification measurements of sulphur and PM emissions over an extensive period aboard Tarago

The rationale for selecting exhaust gas cleaning plant has been to ensure unfettered operation on heavy fuel oil, obviating the need to use more expensive marine gas oil (MGO) in ECAs with the attendant requirement for two fuel oil supply, transfer and service systems. In addition, the shipowner wished to eliminate the risks related to fuel oil switching. While the new 0.1% sulphur cap is now in force in specific regions, the prospect of the global limit being cut from 3.5% to 0.5% in 2020, or in 2025 at the latest, was also an important factor in the decision to opt for scrubber technology.

Primary power in the latest ship is delivered by an electronically-controlled, S60ME-C8 two-stroke main engine built under MAN licence and direct-coupled to a single, fixed pitch propeller. In its eight-cylinder configuration, as fitted to Thermopylae, the design has a maximum continuous rating (MCR) of 19,040kW at 105rpm in L1 layout. However, the installation nominated by Wilh.Wilhelmsen has an MCR of 15,560kW at 105rpm, and normal continuous rating (NCR) of 14,000kW at 101.4rpm.

So as to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, this larger model of engine was chosen and then de-rated to achieve lower specific fuel oil consumption. Furthermore, the engine has low load tuning through the expedient of an exhaust gas bypass, in order to optimise consumption when running at part load or low load.

Electrical power generation is engendered by three auxiliaries, comprising two aggregates each of 1,900kWe and one set rated at 1,600kWe. Hyundai Heavy Industries’ increasingly popular HiMSEN four-stroke engine marque has been nominated for the plant, in the shape of two seven-cylinder H25/33 diesels and one six-cylinder model, respectively. Manoeuvring the very high, slab-sided vehicle carrier is assisted by a bow tunnel thruster, also emanating from HHI.

As a clear hallmark of her trade, Thermopylae is fitted with a 320t capacity TTS quarter ramp, providing a 12m driveway across the main deck threshold through a 19m opening. The main deck offers a maximum cargo stowage height of 6.5m.

Access to the lower decks throughout the 13-deck cargo section is by means of fixed internal ramps and ramp covers, allowing simultaneous loading and discharge. Transfers to decks 8 and 10 are by way of hoistable ramps, with fixed ramps serving movements between decks 10 and 13. The decks have been laid out with single pillars as far as possible, so as to facilitate cargo working and maximise ‘garage’ space. The use of double pillars in the aft part of the vessel equates to about one-third of the total cargo deck area.

The living quarters are arranged on the weather deck in two tiers, atop of which forward is the wheelhouse. Largely protected from the elements by the high hull sides, the mooring stations are located fore and aft at deck 7 and 8 levels.

Chartered to WWL, Thermopylae is registered under the Maltese flag with Wilh.Wilhelmsen’s 100%-owned subsidiary Wilhelmsen Lines Shipowning Malta. Technical husbandry and crewing is the responsibility of Wilhelmsen Ship Management Norway.

The first of Wallenius Lines’ quartet of 8,000CEU newbuilds under construction by Tianjin Xingang is due to be handed over later this year. Having already developed the outline and contract design together with the yard for the owner, the Finnish technical consultancy Deltamarin was retained by Tianjin Xingang for approval and detail design work.

What’s in the name?

Thermopylae is a narrow pass in eastern Greece, the site of a heroic but unsuccessful defence by Greek forces including the Spartans against a considerably larger Persian army in 480BC.


Length overall   199.99m

Length b.p.         190.85m

Breadth, moulded           36.50m

Depth, to upper deck     38.25m

Draught, design                9.10m

Draught, scantling            10.62m

Deadweight, maximum 24,240t

Gross tonnage  75,283t

Net tonnage      29,329t

Capacity, cars     8,000 CEU

Capacity, cargo deck area             66,370m2

Stern ramp capacity        320t

No. of vehicle decks       13

Main engine power(MCR)           15,560kW

Service speed, maximum             20knots

Class      DNV GL

Class notations  +1A1, Car Carrier RO/RO, MCDK, PWDK, E0, TMON, BWM-T, COAT-PSPC(B)

Flag        Malta


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