Cunard: The Man and His Company

By MarEx 2015-05-15 20:04:02

The oddest thing about the founding of Cunard in 1839 is that the company was ever formed by a man like Samuel Cunard at all. The gamble, the challenge, the uncertainty, the sheer modernity of it all would have sat well with a man like Brunel, but not with Samuel Cunard.

To begin with, a Canadian of American parentage does not seem the classic candidate to establish a British icon. And a man so unremittingly prudent, conservative, cautious, austere – and, let’s face it, old – equally doesn’t seem the man to take such huge economic risks or to push the edges of known technology that the founding of the company entailed.

By the time he came to set up the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, as Cunard’s company was originally known, Samuel Cunard was already a prosperous businessman and significant figure in Nova Scotia. He was comfortably settled, with his children around him, a comfortable retirement in the cosy glow of local esteem seemed to lie ahead rather than the creation of a commercial revolution.

Cunard gambled everything he had to set up, 3,000 miles from home, a highly speculative and enormously risky venture uncomfortably close to the forefront of known technology. To do it, he even uprooted himself from his native Nova Scotia and took up residence in London. It all seems markedly out of character with everything he’d done before, and with everything he did afterwards when the company settled down to be a singularly cautious and conservative company in the mold of the founder.

What stimulated Cunard’s interest in establishing an entirely revolutionary transatlantic steamship service a mere two years after the first successful crossing by steam was an advertisement which appeared in The Times. The advert, placed by the British Admiralty – at that time responsible for carrying the Royal Mail overseas – invited tenders for the provision of a timetabled steamship service between Britain and North America to carry the Royal Mail. A contract of £55,000 a year was offered.

The spur for the Admiralty’s apparent generosity was the grotesquely vulnerable service provided for the mail by sailing ships; the journey times were “flexible,” with a transatlantic crossing lasting for six weeks, and with no fixed times of departure or arrival. So it was never known when the mail would arrive – or, since so many sailing ships foundered, whether it would arrive at all. What the Admiralty wanted, in line with the thrusting new technology of the Victorian age, was a maritime extension of the brand new timetabled railways on land.

Unable to find Canadian partners for what must have seemed a foolhardy venture, Cunard submitted his successful bid beyond the Admiralty’s deadline, without sufficient finance, with no steamships and with very little knowledge of what, technically, was required. His bid was successful despite all this because, unlike his competitors whose tenders told the Admiralty what they should have rather than bid on the basis of what was asked for.

Cunard’s bid – like the man – was austere and straightforward. He offered simply to provide the required service for the sum offered. He then went on to sign a contract with potentially ruinous clauses – £15,000 payable for any cancelled sailing, and £500 for each day a ship was late. What madness was this?

Nonetheless, Cunard found his financial backing in Scotland and Liverpool, and after having ordered four ships – each twice as big as he’d originally intended – renegotiated the contract, from a position of strength, to be marginally more favorable.

Cunard’s first ship, the 1,156-ton Britannia left Liverpool on July 4, 1840 with Cunard himself on board, and arrived on schedule in Halifax just ten days later. Within a year Britannia and her three sister ships were providing a timetabled weekly steamship service across the Atlantic – the first ever.

Cunard himself made safety his priority – and to this day Cunard has never been responsible for the loss of a single passenger or a single mailbag on the Atlantic run.

Cunard’s conservative nature enabled his company to see off rivals and to take a measured and steady approach when it came to the introduction of new technology.

Within a few decades the importance of the mail contract was dwindling as emigration became Cunard’s next guarantee of prosperity. Between 1860 and 1900 14 million people emigrated from Europe to the United States; of those, 4.5 million passed through Liverpool; and of those, half made the voyage to America with Cunard.

1902 saw the virtually unnoticed launch on the Tyne of a minor Cunard vessel destined for the Mediterranean trade – and also destined to become one of the most famous ships of all time. She was the 13,600-ton Carpathia which, in 1912, achieved immortality under the command of Captain Arthur Rostron when she sped through icefields in the night, without the benefit of modern radar and at a speed greater than she was supposedly capably of, to rescue all the survivors of the Titanic. Captain Rostron, later Commodore of the Cunard fleet, master of the Queen Mary, and knighted by the King, remarked later that a hand greater than his own guided the little ship that night. In all seven Cunard Commodores have been knighted – an honor no other company can match.

But that was glory yet to come; at the same time as Carpathia was entering service Cunard was looking none too glorious, battered as the company’s ageing transatlantic fleet was by ferocious competition from the Germans and Americans. However, Cunard’s fight back led to the introduction of three of the company’s most famous ships – Lusitania, Mauretania and Aquitania. These were the first “floating palaces” in the Cunard fleet – palaces which moved at unprecedented speed. The Mauretania held the Blue Riband for 22 years.

The interwar years, bolstered by the addition to the fleet as part of war reparations the former German vessel Imperator, renamed Berengaria, were successful and lucrative for Cunard – so much so that the company failed to notice the significance of Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight in 1927. Nonetheless, the first real move from reliance on transatlantic revenues was made when, in 1922, Laconia undertook the first-ever world cruise.

Cunard did not set out to create in 1928 what King George V called “the stateliest ship now in being”, and nor did it intend to give birth to a ship which her last master, Captain John Treasure Jones, said was “the nearest ship ever to be a living being”.

What would become Queen Mary would symbolize the emergence of Great Britain out of the Great Depression and when Queen Mary, wife of King George V, became the first monarch to launch a merchant ship, a job which she accomplished with a bottle of Australian wine rather than the traditional French champagne, millions of the King’s subjects heard his wife’s voice for the very first time.

Queen Mary would be joined eventually by Queen Elizabeth and the real Golden Age of transatlantic travel would begin in the late 1940s as the biggest and fastest ships on the Atlantic did what they were built to do. This was the era of film stars and royalty being photographed by hundreds of press photographers as they stepped ashore in Southampton or New York. But in 1958 the ghost of that Lindbergh flight caught up with Cunard, as for the first time, more people crossed the Atlantic by air than by sea. The end was in sight.

A decade after 1957 the company’s fleet was reduced from 12 to two and yet, in the face of all evidence to the contrary and in what seemed to many an act of lunacy equal only to Samuel Cunard’s original madness in establishing the company, the Cunard board – as it pensioned off two transatlantic liners which had been defeated by the jet aircraft – was planning to construct another transatlantic liner.

And so Queen Elizabeth 2, a true transatlantic liner with a service speed of 28.5 knots and a 1.5 inch thick hull, but which, with its ability to navigate both Panama and Suez, could be a cruise ship too, was launched by the Queen in 1967. QE2 would defy the skeptics and become the most famous ship in the world having a career spanning over 29 years and a record unmatched by any other – including sailing over five miles which is further than any other.

After an independent existence lasting 131 years Cunard was acquired by Trafalgar House in 1971 and would spend the next 30 years making the occasional acquisition here and there and investing in a new engine plant for QE2 which today remains the biggest job of its kind ever undertaken.

It was generally thought at that point that QE2 would be the last ever transatlantic liner. When she’s gone, everybody said, there will never be another. How wrong everybody was.

In April 1998 the mighty Carnival Corporation purchased a broken Cunard and to the surprise of many one of the first things they announced was the construction of a new transatlantic liner. When Queen Mary 2 entered service in 2004 she was the largest, longest, tallest, widest and most expensive liner ever built and was joined by Queen Victoria in 2007 and Queen Elizabeth in 2010.

As Cunard’s 175th anniversary approaches, the three largest ships ever built for the company proudly carry the Cunard name and will take that name far into the future.


Dry Bulk Shipping Recovery Expected in 2017

By MarEx 2015-05-15 19:22:13

The dry bulk shipping market is not expected to return to profitability until 2017, despite a modest recovery in earnings anticipated over the next two years, according to the latest edition of the Dry Bulk Forecaster, published by global shipping consultancy Drewry.

The dry bulk market has always been sensitive to demand fluctuations and seven years ago a demand-driven peak in the market made many owners cash-rich, helping them survive the weak market that has persisted since. While this market trough has been supply-driven, with the industry suffering several years of unprecedented oversupply, the more recent demand slow-down has added to market woes, demonstrated by the conversion of some dry bulk vessels to tankers in a desperate attempt by owners to return to profitability.

“Anaemic demand growth is here to stay, especially as the trade development in coal and iron ore into China is expected to decline further,” commented Rahul Sharan, Drewry’s dry bulk shipping lead analyst.

Iron ore and coal form almost two-thirds of the global dry bulk market and China has been the largest influencer. One of the main concerns in China has been deteriorating air quality, hence the Chinese government shifting its focus from polluting, coal-fired power plants to renewables and cleaner sources of energy. This is casting a shadow over the thermal coal market which will have a detrimental effect on bulk shipping demand.

On the supply side, to date 2015 has seen a record number of demolitions. The average demolition age has fallen and if this trend continues, many more recently built vessels are likely to face a similar fate. Continued high demolition, conversions and low vessel deliveries will therefore keep a check on the overall fleet size.

“We do not expect any noticeable recovery in bulk shipping freight rates this year as the market remains severely over-tonnaged,” added Sharan. “While we expect some improvement in earnings through 2016, this is unlikely to be sufficient for freight rates to reach breakeven. However, we anticipate that the sector will return to profitability by 2017, provided current rates of demolitions persist and ship owners refrain from placing new orders.”


Petrobras Bribes Estimated at $2.1 Billion

By Reuters 2015-05-15 18:46:19

Brazilian investigators believe 6.19 billion reais ($2.1 billion) in bribes were moved in the Petrobras corruption scheme, prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol said on Thursday.

Prosecutors seek to restore 6.77 billion reais to public coffers through fines and the return of stolen funds, he said at a televised press conference to present criminal charges against 13 people, including four former congressmen.

Three of the ex-lawmakers were preventively detained on April 10, the first politicians arrested in the 14-month-old probe. One is from the ruling Workers’ Party and the other three belong to the smaller opposition Party of Solidarity.

Dallagnol, speaking from the southern city of Curitiba where Brazil’s largest-ever corruption investigation began, called the charges “emblematic” and said they showed the prosecution had entered the political nucleus of the kickback scheme.

Prosecutors accused former executives at Petrobras and two dozen engineering firms of inflating the value of service contracts and funneling the excess funds into their own bank accounts and to political parties.

The Supreme Court in Brasilia is also investigating 34 sitting politicians on suspicion of receiving bribes but none have yet been formally charged. Elected officials enjoy special legal protection in Brazil.

One of the former congressmen charged on Thursday is suspected of taking bribes in exchange for helping a public relations firm and a biotech lab secure contracts with state-run bank Caixa Economica Federal and the health ministry.

Another is thought to be the main distributor of kickbacks to the Party of Solidarity.

All are tied to the Petrobras probe by Alberto Youssef, the black-market money changer who agreed to reveal beneficiaries of the corruption scheme in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Federal Judge Sergio Moro will decide whether or not to accept the charges. If he does, the former congressmen will join the 97 other people who have been indicted.

($1 = 2.99 Brazilian reais)


Air-Lubrication Ferry has Lithium Titanate Batteries

By Wendy Laursen 2015-05-15 18:36:34

A team in the E.U. is building a zero emission air supported commuter ferry capable of a speed of 30 knots. The ferry will be powered by a lithium titanate battery system, an alternative to lithium ion batteries that are faster to charge.

Partly funded by the European Commission in a project called BB GREEN, a full size demonstrator of the new battery-driven commuter ferry is expected to be launched late this summer.

An eight-partner-strong team, headed by SES Europe AS (a subsidiary of Effect Ships International), has developed the new vessel concept. Provided funding can be raised, demonstrations with the new 22m ferry will take place in several cities around Europe. The partners’ goal is to create a technological shift in waterborne commuter transport, as the variations of the design can be configured for up to 100 passengers.

The BB GREEN fast ferry will be featuring two permanent magnet motors with a continuous rating of 300kW, operating at a voltage of 720 V DC for propulsion and one motor delivering up to 80kW for the lift fan system. In a commercial application the vessel will use a 400kWh battery lithium titanate battery developed by project partner Emrol from Belgium, giving the vessel a range been recharging of the battery of approximately 14 nautical miles when operated at high speed. For the demonstrator a half size capacity battery will be fitted.

The battery technology was chosen because it allows a very high number of recharging cycles (up to 25.000 cycles even when 80 percent of the total energy storage capacity is used before recharging) and fast recharge (in less than half hour). This makes the new battery modules particularly suitable for heavy duty commercial use.

The vessel will use battery electric drivelines from Echandia Marine Sweden, who also will provide a new supercharger system for fast recharging of the battery. Echandia is the system integrator partner in the project.

The vessel, with a 400 kWh battery, 30 knots cruise speed and a return route of up to 12-14 nautical miles, will be able to operate on an hourly schedule. Assuming 10 or 12 hours of operation per day the whole year around, the battery pack is expected to last for at least five years.

The propulsion system for the ferry will be contra rotating pod propulsors as this system offers market leading high efficiency over a wide spectrum of speeds in combination with excellent maneuvering and handling of the vessel, says Ulf Tudem, General Manager of Effect Ships International.

The full-size concept demonstrator vessel is now under construction by project partners BJB/ Latitude Yachts at their yard in Latvia. Last year BJB won a European tender competition to build the demonstrator . The yard is now constructing the hull and superstructure from carbon composite sandwich and Divinycell core materials; combined with vacuum infusion technique and Vinylester resin. The resulting structures are strong, light and durable, says Tudem.

Diab AS has been responsible for the composite engineering and is supplying the materials.

DIAB has assisted and supervised the construction yard throughout the lay-up and infusion of the first vessel. According to DIAB’s representative Bjorn Abrahamsen, the main hull infusion process went fully according to plan, to the great satisfaction of the yard as well as the project coordinator – Tor Livgard from Effect Ships International.

To achieve market leading low hull water resistance air supported vessel (ASV) technology from Effect Ships International is used. This technique was developed and patented by the company and verified through extensive tank testing by SSPA Sweden.

“By means of a proprietary lift fan system, almost 80 percent of the vessel’s weight is supported on a cushion of pressurized air offering up to 40 percent reduction in resistance and reduced wake wash,” says Tudem.

ASV and carbon construction are complementary technologies, he says, because reduced operational weight will contribute to reduced energy consumption and lifetime cost.

Studio Sculli in Italy has been responsible for the topside and design of the demonstrator vessel. Sculli emphasizes that several alternative topside designs will be available on request to match local requirements and individual operators’ tastes.

The BB GREEN project end user partner is Aqualiner / Waterbus from the Netherlands. The company is already operating several commuter ferries and has joined the BB GREEN project as they predict fast battery electric ferries will be the way to go in the future.

A market study conducted in the project concluded there is a large number of current and potential routes and route networks for BB GREEN type of vessels around the coasts and on inland waterways in Europe.

“The project partners are of the opinion that a key to convince the market to go zero emission with the BB GREEN concept is to get the full size demonstrator in operation,” says Tudem. “We invite operators and politicians engaged in commuter transport handling to come on board for trials.”

Lloyds Register has been in charge of the classification and safety issues for BB GREEN.

Jotun from Sandefjord, Norway will provide the paint and the antifouling, which has already been successfully tested by Effect Ships International on a previously built ASV test vessel.


Australian Mariners Protest BP in Melbourne

By Kathryn Stone 2015-05-15 15:47:04

Maritime workers staged protests on Friday in front of BP’s Melbourne Headquarters following the company’s decision to lay off the crew of one of Australia’s last local tankers.

According to maritime union sources, the 36 crew members of the British Loyalty are set to be replaced with foreign laborers working for as little as $2 an hour. This is the third Australian tanker in the last 12 months to halt operations, leaving only two local tankers for coastal transportation.

The British Loyalty will leave Australia for Singapore where it will be re-absorbed into BP’s international shipping network.

The decision comes as BP shuts down Bulwer Island, a large East Coast domestic fuel supplier. An estimated 360 Australian jobs will be lost as a result of the closure.

Australia is highly reliant on gasoline imports with over 90 percent of fuel supplies coming into the country from foreign sources.

With the prospect of more foreign workers operating in Australian waters, the union also expressed strong concern over mariner safety qualifications. The British Loyalty has been known to navigate frequently over large stretches of the Great Barrier Reef and the union worries that a catastrophic environmental disaster could result from underqualified seafarers.

David Heindel Secretary-Treasurer of the United States Seafarer’s International Union recently stated, “The Gulf of Mexico disaster taught us that you can’t cut corners to save a few pennies. Instead, you want the best qualified, best trained professionals onboard your vessels.”

In 2010 a Chinese bulk coal carrier run aground on the Great Barrier Reef creating the largest grounding scar to date and releasing heavy fuel oil into the surrounding waters.


Polar Code Challenged over Sewage, HFO

By MarEx 2015-05-15 13:53:50

The environmental provisions for the Arctic Code were approved Friday following the week-long 68th Marine Environment Protection Committee session. Ships trading in the Polar Regions will have to comply with strict safety and environmental protocols specific to the harsh conditions in the Arctic and Antarctic in accordance with the provisions adopted today.

The Polar Code covers the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters relevant to ships operating in waters surrounding the two poles.

The newly adopted environmental provisions will:

• Prevent the discharge of oil or oily mixtures into the sea and mandate that oil fuel tanks be separated from outer shell.

• Prevent the discharge of and noxious liquid substances or mixtures containing noxious substances into the sea.

• Prevent the discharge of sewage or garbage unless in accordance with MARPOL and Polar Code regulations.

The adoption of the new environmental provisions comes at a critical time for the maritime industry as shipping through both Arctic and Antarctic waters is set to increase. Trends and forecasts indicate that due to melting ice, polar shipping will grow and diversify in coming years. According to the IMO, “these challenges need to be met without compromising either safety of life at sea or the sustainability of the polar environments.”

Campaigners Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) have said that Polar Code did not go far enough to protect the Antarctic environment from shipping, adding for instance that the regulations would continue to allow raw sewage to be discharged beyond 12 nautical miles from land.

“While some vessels will carry the necessary equipment, the Code does not explicitly spell out what should happen in the event of an oil or chemical spill,” Sian Prior of ASOC said.

“The inclusion of specific provisions in the Code could have tailored existing requirements to the special needs of polar waters.”

The adoption of the environmental provisions follows the December 2014 adoption of the safety-related requirements of the Polar Code and related amendments to make it mandatory under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). The complete Polar Code, encompassing the safety-related and environment-related requirements, is expected to enter into force on 1 January 2017.

The Polar Code will apply to new ships constructed on or after 1 January 2017. Ships constructed before that date will be required to meet the relevant requirements of the Polar Code by the first intermediate or renewal survey, whichever occurs first, after 1 January 2018.