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The Orkney floating container terminal alternative

The Orkney floating container terminal alternative
FCST would be equipped with four or more fixed-pedestal slewing cranes

A recent seminar held in London outlined the Floating Container Storage & Transhipment Terminal (FCST). The first of its kind, the initial FCST is expected to operate at Scapa Flow in Orkney, Scotland although FCST’s are envisaged as a low cost port option suitable for many locations.

Behind FCST is a public-private consortium comprising the Orkney Harbour Authority and marine services company Orcades Marine Management which are supported by development agency Highlands & Islands Enterprise, and specialist industry partners.

Situated at the entrance to the North Sea, Scapa Flow offers zero deviation for mainline ships already passing through the Pentland Firth channel on transatlantic services. Scapa Flow is also closer to most of the feeder ports in UK, Ireland, Norway and Iceland, which will in turn help to reduce feeder costs. Moreover, Baltic feeder markets can be served avoiding Kiel Canal fees, delays or ship size constraints. Interlining and relay are further options with mainline ships heading for Canada, US East Coast, US Gulf Coast, Caribbean etc. able to transfer containers between them at Scapa Flow.

Positioned on the edge of the Sulphur Emission Control Area (SECA), Scapa Flow offers other opportunities to help reduce fuel costs for liner operators.

Altogether it is estimated that liner shipping can achieve cost savings of approximately US$100 (Euro72) per teu transhipped via Scapa Flow, compared with current practice using hub ports involving a further 500 miles steaming distance (e.g. Bremerhaven, Rotterdam and Antwerp).

The consortium believes a 500,000 teu capacity FCST could be fully operational for around US$62m (Euro45m) – about one third of the cost of a comparable land-side terminal. This large capital cost difference would ensure a more rapid pay-back of investment as well as having potential to reduce container handling charges.

Further benefits of Scapa Flow include the large sheltered anchorage with low wave height, natural deep-water exceeding 25 m, plus the availability of the port authority towage fleet and pilotage expertise.

Currently the consortium is now looking for one or more private investors to help develop the FCST and bring it on stream.

What is the FCST

The FCST would initially comprise a converted containership of between 4,000-8,000 teu capacity. The platform would be stabilised, and equipped with four or more fixed-pedestal slewing cranes. Initial design work was undertaken by Gottwald Port Technology and Edinburgh Napier University during the EU StratMoS project, with further development and naval architect refinements undertaken by Orcades Marine Management.

Besides costing roughly one third that of a similar capacity landside terminal the possibility of EU and other public sector financial support (based on efficiency, environmental and economic impacts) could bring the total investment cost down even further.

Depending on initial ship size used, the FCST would have an annual operating cost of around US$14m (Euro 10m) – at least 50% less than an equivalent landside terminal. An FCST avoids the need for extensive landside equipment such as straddle carriers, Mafi trailers or yard gantries. Further advantages include high productivity with cranes focused on working ships and not yard equipment, lower container dwell time associated with transhipment terminals and the prospect of the ‘dynamic’ transfer of containers directly from one ship to another.

David Thomson, managing director of Orcades Marine, is confident the FCST would provide a stable platform for crane operations. His calculations are based on several years of weather data. Smart technology would be employed to ensure safe and efficient crane operations and help prevent all four cranes from swinging over at the same time and downtime is estimated to be as competitive as any landside transhipment terminal.