Modern warships still use anchors

Dirty diesel cars? Nothing compared to ships!

Steel blue sky and "cozy" 14 degrees. As far as I can tell after eight days at sea, August is at its best here in Cuxhaven today. The strong tides set the tone in this part of the North Sea. If you want to go into the harbor or out to sea, it makes no sense to fight against the current, especially if you are sitting on a traditional sailor like ours.

Today we go out to measure particulate matter emissions from ships and we don't have far. If you look out to sea from Cuxhaven, you can see an endless caravan of ships that travel along the coast to and from Hamburg, Germany's largest port. Many of them are maritime giants whose huge engines can be heard pounding in the distance day and night.

The coastal waters off Cuxhaven are like a maritime motorway on which ocean liners travel day and night in the direction of Hamburg

"Look at that rash!" says Sönke Diesener as the Ryvar, our 101-year-old logger, crosses the shipping lane behind a huge tanker. The latter, who works for the "Naturschutzbund Deutschland" (NABU) in the field of transport policy, holds a metal rod over the railing. A device is attached to it that measures the particulate matter pollution in the air. Within seconds, the number on its display shoots from 800 particles per cubic centimeter to over 50,000. The maximum value is 73,000 at the end.

"At a busy intersection of a major artery in a big city, you get to 16,000," says Diesener in the reserved manner of a Hanseatic. The numbers speak for themselves.

Dirty fuel

The real problem is not that these ships use a lot of fuel even when they do. The problem is, they often burn dirty fuel and how they do it.

"To this day, most ships burn highly toxic heavy fuel oil on the high seas," explains Diesener. "In the end, heavy oil is a residual product of fuel production. Gasoline is made, diesel is made and what is left is heavy oil."

And burning that is 100 times dirtier than marine diesel in terms of sulfur dioxide and an incredible 3,500 times dirtier than diesel for cars, he adds. Along with lots of carbon dioxide, these ships blow huge amounts of it into the air, and sulfur dioxide creates acid rain.

Sönke Diesener from NABU measures fine dust emissions from passing ships. The values ​​are often dramatic

They also emit nitrogen oxides, which over-acidify the soil and over-fertilize lakes and coastal areas, thus destroying the balance in these ecosystems. And last but not least, these ships also pump large quantities of particulate matter and soot into the atmosphere.

A relatively easy way to drastically reduce emissions would be to stop burning heavy fuel oil and use diesel instead. Then you could also install diesel particulate filters (DPFs), which would reduce soot and fine dust emissions by up to 99.9%. A special SCR catalytic converter, in turn, could eliminate 70 to 80 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions. Both systems are already in use on several ferries and cruise ships.

And the heavy fuel oil could still be used elsewhere. It could be broken down further, says Diesener. "The solids that are left over at the end could be used in road construction or as fuel in power plants."

Have fun on the cruise

But why do we care about ship emissions? Big ships, after all, spend much of their time out at sea, and most of us don't. First of all, there is climate change. According to a study in the "Journal of Geophysical Research", soot is the second most important climate emission after CO2. Among other things, it absorbs the sun's energy and thereby heats the atmosphere. When it falls on snow, for example in the Arctic, the so-called reflectivity of the snow decreases because it is less white. As a result, less solar energy is reflected, which in turn contributes to global warming.

Cruise ships in particular often go right into the middle of the city, where their constantly running engines contribute to pollution

In addition, these large ships are often closer than you might think. In port cities, cruise ships are often close to the city center and keep their engines running all the time. This is almost inevitable, because they are basically large floating hotels, where the pool has to be heated and the air conditioning has to be operated in the harbor. A modern cruise ship needs about as much electricity as a city with 20,000 inhabitants. You can't just turn off the engine and plug in an extension cord like we do on the Ryvar when we're in port.

Hybrid engines and sails

It's not that simple, but it's also not impossible. In 2012, after long negotiations, an international standard for shore power supply for ships (OPS) was finally agreed. Progress is slow, but at least a growing number of ports are now offering OPS and several ferry lines and cruise line operators are converting their ships accordingly or are already using OPS.

Despite sea breezes, fine dust pollution on cruise ships is often much worse than in cities

One challenge was that ships use different voltages on board depending on how old they are or where they come from. The large amount of electricity that is required could also mean that the electricity grid in some ports cannot meet the demand and that additional power plants would have to be built there, which would greatly increase the costs for a shore power supply. The port of Gothenburg in Sweden already had electricity available when the first OPS system was installed there in 2000. In the meantime, they have gone a step further and installed several wind power systems - not because they needed the additional electricity, but because the operators wanted to supply green electricity.

In order to drive even greener, there is also liquid gas (LNG) as a fuel, which burns much cleaner than diesel or oil. Several ferries and even a container ship are now using this technology. Scandlines uses hybrid ships on ferry connections between Denmark, Germany and Sweden. Similar to hybrid cars, they combine combustion and electric motors.

"In this way, the ferry can optimally adapt its fuel consumption to the load. In this way, up to 15 percent of CO₂ emissions can be saved," says Anette Ustrup Svendsen, Head of Corporate Communications at Scandlines. "Our long-term goal is zero emissions."

Scandlines hybrid ferry is more efficient than conventional ships and saves up to 15 percent of CO2 emissions

An electric ferry in Norway has already done this. The 80 meter long catamaran has been doing its laps in Norway's largest fjord since 2014 and the electricity for it comes from climate-neutral hydropower. There are even solar powered ferries, but they are also much smaller. Berlin's transport companies have been using four of them for several years.

Back on the Ryvar, a call from the stern interrupts this remarks. The captain has initiated a turn and the tree of our main mast thunders over our heads to the other side of the ship. We have to get to the ropes as quickly as possible - at our assigned posts at the main and foremast. Sometimes even traveling on an emission-free ship is a bit exhausting.

  • Gigantomania in shipping

    Welcome to Hamburg!

    With a carrying capacity of 20,600 standard containers (TEU), the "CMA CGM Antoine de Saint Exupéry" is the largest container ship that has ever entered the port of Hamburg. It is in seventh place worldwide, behind six ships of the same construction from the OOCL shipping company

  • Gigantomania in shipping

    A new size record

    In May 2017, the world's largest container ship entered the only German deep-water port in Wilhelmshaven. The MV "OOCL Hong Kong" is 400 meters long and has 21,413 spaces for standard containers. It was built in South Korea. Before the stop in Germany, the ship had already docked on its maiden voyage in Felixstowe, UK, and Gdansk, Poland

  • Gigantomania in shipping

    As long as the Empire State Building is tall

    Shortly before that, the Port of Hamburg celebrated the arrival of another giant: The MOL Triumph is also 400 meters long, but "only" has space for 20,170 standard containers. However, the freighter cannot enter Germany's largest port fully loaded; the Elbe is too shallow for that. The Japanese shipping company intends to use the MOL Triumph in liner services between Europe and East Asia in the future.

  • Gigantomania in shipping

    Cost accounting questionable

    25 years ago, 4,442 containers were enough to set records. Since then, container ships have gotten bigger and bigger. But the bigger they get, the less you save per container. They also have to drive fully loaded to be cheaper. Even with tankers there was a tendency to keep growing - the super tankers even surpassed today's container giants. But now they are no longer in demand.

  • Gigantomania in shipping

    Too large? The longest ship in the world

    The year Viking oil tanker was over 458 meters long. It took him more than six kilometers to stop. Due to its size and poor maneuverability, it was unable to navigate the Panama, Suez or English Channels and could only call at a few ports. From 2004 to 2009 the tanker served as a floating crude oil storage facility under the name Knock Nevis and was scrapped in 2010.

  • Gigantomania in shipping

    A small town on the sea

    The largest cruise ship ever built is the Harmony of the Seas. Over 6300 passengers and 2100 crew members can cavort on 16 decks. The US shipping company Royal Caribbean Cruises paid more than one billion euros for the 362 meter long ship with its 20 dining rooms, 23 pools, the longest slide at sea and a park with around 12,000 plants.

  • Gigantomania in shipping

    Big as a cruise ship, but without tourists

    Various sheikhs, oligarchs and other billionaires compete to see who has the biggest yacht. For example, the ships are sometimes lengthened during the construction phase in order to outdo the opponents. The motor yacht Azzam (length 180 meters) is currently at the top. The toy of a Saudi sheikh has a helipad, missile defense system and its own submarine.

  • Gigantomania in shipping

    Sailing with underwater observation lounge

    The designer Philippe Starck designed the super yacht "A" for the Russian billionaire Andrei Melnichenko. Its sail area is about half the size of a soccer field, it has eight decks with three pools, its own submarine and a panoramic lounge under the waterline. With a length of 143 meters, the ship is significantly larger than the German naval training ship "Gorch Fock" (89 meters).

  • Gigantomania in shipping

    Probably the most expensive warship in the world

    The USA is spending around 13 billion dollars on the new aircraft carrier (length 337 meters). The US Navy has been practicing aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford since April 2017. So far, the US has 18 classic aircraft carriers in service. The new Ford class is supposed to bring aircraft into the air more effectively and faster - with an electromagnetic catapult instead of a steam-powered one, as was previously the case.

  • Gigantomania in shipping

    Russia's mega-ships

    Ice sheets three meters thick? No problem for the Russian nuclear icebreaker Arktika. It is the largest of its kind, according to the Russian state website Sputniknews. His job: From the end of 2017, he is to keep oil and gas tankers free of the way around the Arctic. It was launched in June 2016 and will be followed by other icebreakers in the coming years.

  • Gigantomania in shipping

    Slow muscle man

    The Thialf is the world's most powerful floating crane that can lift loads of up to 14,200 tons. It is primarily used as a work ship for the construction of offshore systems and its draft can vary between 11.8 and 31.6 meters. The hull consists of two floating bodies that support the deck structure via four columns each. The only thing that he doesn't do is speed with a maximum of 11 kilometers per hour.

  • Gigantomania in shipping

    Heavy transporters at sea

    The Dockwise Vanguard can transport offshore platforms (photo) or entire ships. To do this, the transport ship is lowered, the cargo is pulled over the loading platform with tugs and then the ship is lifted out of the water again. The world's largest transport ship is 275 meters long.

  • Gigantomania in shipping

    To the deepest point of the seas

    ... director James Cameron dived with the Deepsea Challenger. The submarine was built under strict secrecy in Australia from 2005 to 2012. The passenger sits in a ball made of high-strength steel with an inner diameter of 109 cm (wall thickness: 64 mm). In 2012 Cameron dived to the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific (around 10,984 m below sea level).

  • Gigantomania in shipping

    It works without people

    Size is not everything! In the future, ships could be unmanned and operated electrically. Norway is starting the first attempt with a self-propelled e-container ship: The "Yara Birkland" (picture) is to transport fertilizers in coastal traffic from 2018. First with a captain, remotely controlled from 2019 and autonomous from 2020. Experts think it could become a game changer for the shipping industry.

    Author: Insa Wrede