Just a few weeks after docking its widest vessel to date, the Port of East London has successfully tackled another mammoth challenge with the maiden voyage of the new generation Post Panamax Ro-Ro vessel MV THERMOPYLAE. The ship – which sailed in on Wednesday, 9 May – is the widest car carrier and the first HERO Class vessel to call at the Port of East London.

HERO refers to High Efficiency Ro Ro – a specialised type of car carrier introduced by Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean (WW Ocean) in 2015 to maximise on the widening of the Panama Canal international trade route. These ships boast increased width and capacity, greater flexibility for a variety of vehicles and other wheeled or trailer-borne cargo, as well as reduced fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

With a width of 36.5 meters, gross tonnage of 75283 tons and a length of just under 200 metres the car carrier is substantially broader than the standard large ships, which are slightly over 32 meters wide. Other car carriers that have docked in East London had a maximum beam of 32 metres. The ship was built at the Hyundai shipyard in Korea and flies the flag of Malta.

Part of the Wallenius Wilhelmsen group, WW Ocean is a leading provider of deep-sea ocean transportation for cars, trucks, rolling equipment and breakbulk cargo. Through a fleet of more than 50 modern RoRo vessels, WW Ocean offers a global liner service in 12 trade routes to six continents. Last year, WW Ocean moved three million car equivalent units (CEU) of cars, rolling equipment and breakbulk worldwide.

Niran Sheoprosad, Head of WW Ocean South Africa; Sharon Sijako, Port Manager of the Port of East London; Captain Göran Söderdahl, Strategic Projects at WW Ocean; East London Harbour Master Captain Gugu Dube and master of MV THERMOPYLAE, Captain Hitinder Singh.
Niran Sheoprosad, Head of WW Ocean South Africa; Sharon Sijako, Port Manager of the Port of East London; Captain Göran Söderdahl, Strategic Projects at WW Ocean; East London Harbour Master Captain Gugu Dube and master of MV THERMOPYLAE, Captain Hitinder Singh.

“These HERO class vessels offer greater capacity and can present even bigger challenges as well as opportunities for our ports than the usual roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) vessels, which are all big, boxy vessels with multiple decks built to carry thousands of vehicles on high-volume routes,” said TNPA’s East London Port Manager Sharon Sijako.

“In order to establish whether we could safely dock the height and width of these HERO vessels a simulation exercise was conducted in the town of Leer, Germany, with WW Ocean, Lloyds of London and the Port of East London,” she added.

Velile Dube, GM: Cape Channel for Transnet Port Terminals said: “We are proud to be part of this momentous occasion and milestone achieved by the port, shipping lines, Mercedes Benz South Africa and other key role players. Being able to receive a vessel of this magnitude at our port and efficiently handle its cargo speaks volumes for the world-class infrastructure, equipment and work-force that we have at our disposal. We look forward to welcoming other vessels of the HERO’s calibre and are committed to providing outstanding operational performance and turnaround times for new and existing customers that will ultimately facilitate economic growth in the region.”

A range of special arrangements and conditions were also put in place by East London Harbour Master Captain Gugu Dube and WW Ocean. A number of meetings took place in the planning stages as well as simulation exercises with pilots to manage the docking.

Niran Sheoprosad, Head of WW Ocean South Africa, said: “When faced with this challenge, it was very good to see the close co-operation between WW Ocean and Transnet to achieve this major milestone. As ships are evolving to be bigger, smarter and greener, it has been exciting to see the evolution of the Port of East London, from deepening the car terminal berths, to handling our LCTC (Large Car and Truck Carrier) TIJUCA at 231m in length in October 2011 and now our widest HERO vessel THERMOPYLAE.”

Ro Ro Thermopylae
Ro Ro Thermopylae

THERMOPYLAE discharged 595 passenger cars and light and heavy commercial vehicles in East London. The ship will depart East London on Wednesday after loading a consignment of Mercedes Benz products for export to Australia.

Upon arrival of the vessel, East London Harbour Master Captain Gugu Dube presented a plaque to the ship’s master, Captain Hitinder Singh.

The ship is capable of taking a car payload of up to 8,000 car-equivalent units (CEUs), compared to the 6,400/6,500CEU capacity of preceding pure car/truck carriers. It boasts a wider beam and greater cargo range and capacity than earlier ships. The HERO also includes a number of innovations to help reduce fuel consumption and its environmental impact, achieving a reduction of some 10-15% in fuel consumption per cargo unit.

As oversized project and breakbulk cargoes become a growing part of car carriers’ business, South African ports may begin to see more of these newer ships that are larger and more versatile, with design features that enable them to carry high and heavy project and breakbulk shipments in addition to vehicles. Carriers are investing in ships such as the HERO class that offer adjustable decks, high clearances, and oversized ramps that can handle locomotives, machinery, and construction components weighing as much as 500 tons.

The HERO vessel also includes a shallower draught, enabling it to dock even in developing countries, where depth can often be an issue.

There are currently four vessels of this design in service and four more expected to be built. These vessels are spread across a few trade lanes so there will be a few occasionally on the South African coast.