Recent years have witnessed a number of programs involving new series of versatile, omni-purpose ships targeted at the market for project cargoes and otherwise heavy or outsized items of freight. The multiple-vessel nature of the various fleet investment initiatives has meant that a capability for handling more difficult consignments is increasingly allied with a regular, scheduled service pattern or transportation system, rather than with a purely tramping function. To a degree, this is evocative of the situation years ago when certain cargo liners were equipped with special heavy-lift derricks.
Combining a specialization in project and heavy-lift freight with long experience in liner-type service, Hamburg-based Rickmers-Linie has opened a major new stage of fleet development entailing nine ships of the Superflex Heavy MPC (multipurpose container carrier) designation.
First-of-class Rickmers Hamburg is every inch the modern maid-of-all-work, offering a 640-ton unit lift capacity along with a variable hold space configuration suited to the widest range of breakbulk and conventional cargoes as well as large, indivisible items of freight. The 30,000-dwt Superflex series is due to extend to nine ships before the end of next year, with construction having been distributed among three yards in China.
Testament to the Chinese shipbuilding industry's global competitiveness in an ever-widening range of tonnage, and to its strong links with the German shipowning community, the Rickmers-Linie program entails five vessels from Xiamen Shipyard and two from Jinling Shipyard
, plus the Rickmers Hamburg and a sistership from Shanghai Shipyard.
The five-hold design is fitted with four, high-stooled deck cranes, two of which have a 320-ton maximum lift capacity, while one is rated at 100-tons and other at 45-tons. By using the two largest units in tandem, piece weights up to 640-tons can be handled.
The hatchway layout provides openings up to 105 ft. (32 m) in length and 34 ft. (10.3 m), accessing holds fitted with adjustable tweendecks. The below-deck arrangements mean that the hold spaces can be highly compartmentalized using three flexible tweendecks, or can be configured to give various hold heights up to 15.7-m in accordance with cargo needs, making for optimum space utilization.
Integral dehumidifiers are intended to better ensure the delivered condition of handling-sensitive cargoes such as steel and paper, while the box-like nature of the holds contributes to efficient stow intake and outturn and to a full-load capability for 1,888-teu containers. The service speed of 19.5-knots is indicative of the liner role foreseen for the versatile new breed of general-purpose trader.
"In 2003, when more of the new ships are available to Rickmers, the Round-the-World service will be upgraded for faster transit times and greater regularity," commented the line's marketing manager Andreas Elger.
"This transformation — which will see the re-launch of the Round-the-World service as the Pearl String service - will offer shippers unparalleled possibilities for moving project cargo," he added.
Previously untapped market sectors, such as the paper industry, will also be targeted with the employment of the MPC fleet.
The Pearl String service will also include Rickmers' own supporting feeder services, including Asian routings via Shanghai as the hub port.