WWL’s HERO Class RoRos are fit for the future

When Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL) came to plan its next generation of RoRo vessels, it did so by taking into account the impact of structural and regulatory changes taking place in the shipping industry.

In particular, the expansion of the Panama Canal would have a fundamental impact on its operating patterns, requiring much greater flexibility from the vessels’ design and cargo carrying capability.

The ships would also need to deliver improved operational efficiency with lower environmental impact. Already a front-runner in terms of environmental performance, WWL would have to factor in new rules on ballast water management and sulphur emissions as well as reducing the impact of greenhouse gas production through improved fuel efficiency.

The result is the High Efficiency RoRo or HERO Class, a series of eight ‘neo-Panamax’ RoRos ordered from Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries in South Korea for entry into service between 2015 and 2017.

Changing Lanes

For more than a century, the shape of maritime trade was dictated by the dimensions of the Panama Canal’s locks. When the plan to build a second, larger set of locks was announced, WWL identified the opportunity to think about the impact of this change on its business.

Officially opened in June 2016 after an investment of more than $5bn, the new locks are able to handle ships up to 366 meters long and 49 meters wide; almost 90% of the existing global fleet – and the entirety of the world RoRo fleet – according to the Panama Canal Authority.

WWL would also need to design the HERO vessels with shallower draft to enable calls at a wider range of ports – increasingly important as it sought to expand its network.

‘In the globalised economy, production centres have become increasingly fragmented and trade routes have become complex. In order to meet customers’ needs to call at a wider range of ports, we needed a vessel design that presented as much deployment flexibility as possible,’ says Roger Strevens, VP, Global Head of Key and Liner Accounts at WWL.

Even in locations regularly served by WWL, some ports restrict vessel length to 200 metres so WWL had to achieve increased cargo capacity without adding to length.

New demands

Designed as a hybrid with both RoRo and PCTC capability, the HERO class reflect a desire by WWL to build smarter rather than simply bigger, gaining flexibility and efficiency in the process. At 200 metres long and 36.5 metres wide, the ships can call at shallow water ports, increasing their geographical scope of service.

The vessels can transport up to 8,000 car equivalent units thanks to a design that features five hoistable car decks, allowing for multiple configurations and a wider variety of customer cargo, including a lot of break-bulk.

‘The HERO class has been designed to support WWL’s ‘zero damage’ cargo quality objective. To make loading and unloading safer the stern ramp has been strengthened to take weight up to 320 tonnes. The number of supporting pillars on cargo decks has been reduced and they are arranged in a single row, which helps ensure top cargo quality,’ explains Strevens.

A specially-designed hull shape, rudder and bow, reduce drag and wave resistance, thus improving fuel efficiency. Several of the vessels are fitted with exhaust gas cleaning systems that reduce sulphur emissions to below 0.1% in compliance with ECA regulations and will thereby also enable compliance with future IMO rules, as well as a significant reduction in particulate matter.

The wider beam provides increased dynamic stability, allowing a reduction in the volume of ballast water carried. An advanced engine control system allows optimum efficiency across a range of service speeds, rather than a particular design speed, as tended to be the case previously.

Sustainable performance

WWL operates one of the world’s largest fleets of PCTC and ro-ro vessels, a position further extended through sister company, EUKOR Car Carriers of South Korea. In addition to its shipping operations, WWL moves and processes several million cars inland a year generating a third of its revenues from land-based activities.

An approach to building and deploying assets that caters to customer needs and takes account of prevailing trends is indicative of the company’s philosophy of innovation says Strevens.

‘The expansion of the Panama Canal puts us in a brave new world. The fragmentation of the manufacturing base means a full vessel load of just one type of cargo from one port is highly unusual. Given that industry sectors go through cycles at their own speeds, the versatility of the HERO vessels enables us to adapt them to the profile of cargo to be carried in order to offer the most efficient service possible.’