The notion that container carriers are trying to poach project and heavy-lift cargo is nothing new. Drewry, the London-based maritime shipping consultancy, identified that trend at least three years ago.
But now, it looks like ro-ro carriers are also coming after cargo traditionally carried by a heavy-lift fleet that continues to suffer from simultaneous capacity increases and rate decreases.
“We are seeing increased interest by ro-ro carriers going after non-traditional ro-ro cargo, such as breakbulk and smaller projects,” said Frank Camp, sales and marketing director at the Port of Jacksonville. “A few years ago it was rare to see ro-ro carriers at breakbulk conferences. Now there is a more substantial presence. They are going after breakbulk and project cargo to diversify their cargo mix.”
Ro-ro carriers are building ships designed to carry high and heavy and breakbulk cargoes. For example, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics introduced the Mark V vessel a few years ago, a ship that the carrier describes as a ro-ro “super vessel.” A Panamax vessel that serves in round-the-world trades, the Mark V has over half a million square feet in deck area, of which over 330,000 square feet is reserved for high and heavy cargo.
“The ro-ro carriers have also made significant investments in equipment to move non-wheeled cargo onto ro-ro vessels,” noted Camp. Components and parts for power generation projects are the primary cargoes JAXPORT has seen switch from lift on-lift off (li-lo) vessels to ro-ro.
In some cases, traditional li-lo cargoes make the transition to ro-ro by giving them a set of wheels. Such was the case in the Port of Jacksonville when four helicopters came through JAXPORT’s heavy lift and specialty cargo berth at Blount Island Marine Terminal. The helicopters are 50 feet in length, weigh 10,000 pounds each, and are worth $15 million apiece. Workers used specialty equipment to roll the helicopters off the U.S.-flagged Liberty Global Logistics ro-ro vessel Liberty Pride.
The helicopters, which arrived at JAXPORT from the Middle East, are owned by a foreign military and were trucked from Jacksonville to a manufacturing facility in the U.S. Southeast for refurbishing.
The multipurpose carriers aren’t necessarily taking these developments lying down. Last year, AAL, a multipurpose shipping operator, transported a fleet of eight airport shuttle buses, which might be expected to be carried aboard a ro-ro vessel, from Xingang, China, to Melbourne, Australia. AAL was chosen by the shipper over competition deploying traditional ro-ro carriers.
“We compete head-to-head with ro-ro carriers for this type of cargo,” said Frank Mueller, general manager of AAL’s liner services division.
The consignment was moved in two separate shipments on the multipurpose vessel AAL Hong Kong, which operates on services that connects ports across the Australasia region. The buses, each measuring 46 feet in length, 10 feet in height, and 10 feet in width, were loaded and discharged using the vessel’s side-mounted, heavy lift cranes.
The shipper reported that AAL’s vessel and solution saved significant time and that the cargo was loaded and stowed inside a dry cargo hold and was delivered in excellent condition.