Thanks to Capt Arjun Deshmukh who has kindly given permission to post the following article about one of the Leader Class PCTCs, the Hercules Leader:
PCTC ‘Hercules Leader’ - By Capt. Arjun Deshmukh
The Pure Car and Truck Carrier M.V. "Hercules Leader" was built by Imabari Shipbuilding Co Ltd Marugame and delivered in October 1998. She was one of 12 sister vessels, which were ordered by Nippon Yusen Kaisha Tokyo in Imabari Shipbuilding and Shin Kurushima Shipyard. The first vessel to roll out was the "Aquarius Leader" in early 1998, to be managed by NYK Shipmanagement Tokyo. The first vessel of this class to be given to Wallem Shipmanagement Ltd for management was the "Cygnus Leader" in mid 1998.
In a space of about 2 years there were 12 vessels built for NYK, at an average of one ship being delivered almost every 2 months from the two yards. Each vessel is named beautifully, after well known star constellations. Wallem Shipmanagement Ltd has been involved in the management of "Hercules Leader" from the time of the vessel's delivery from the yard.
The orders for these vessels were placed in the period prior to 1998, when demand for space on board the world's existing car carriers was far in excess of the capacity of the existing car carrier fleet belonging to the major shipping companies who were operating PCCs (Pure Car Carrier).
In placing the order for these vessels, the term PCTC (Pure Car and Truck Carrier) was conceived, with an eye to carrying anything that could be self driven, pushed, towed, or loaded with a fork lift. These PCTCs are state of the art vessels built to load cars, trucks, bulldozers and heavy equipment, yachts, locomotive engines, tanks and even jet aircraft. The vessel can load heavy cranes or equipment of150 mt weight as this is the capacity of the stern ramp. This class of vessel is the largest car carrier in the world with a space capacity of 6000 standard size cars. This vessel arguably carries the most expensive cargo ever carried on a single vessel. With a typical full load of 5300 cars, each with an average value of US$ 40,000 each (asthe vessel frequently carries a large number of Lexus, Pajero,Porsche, Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar cars), the total value of the cargo can be anything up to US$ 200 million.
The vessel is extremely versatile and has been built so that loading can take place simultaneously in a number of decks, due to the variable positions of its movable internal rampways. There are 12 car decks, 5 of which are liftable. These decks are lifted in order to increase the deck height and load high vehicles. To lift the decks, the vessel is provided with two car deck lifter trucks, essentially a truck with a hydraulic platform which lifts and moves the deck to therequired level.
Other decks are lifted by hydraulic operation. The vessel is equipped with a stern ramp of 150 mt capacity and 2 midship ramps of 30 mt capacity each. To ventilate the cargo holds during cargo operations,the vessel is fitted with 44 cargo hold fans, some of which are reversible and can be used for supply or exhaust as required. To runthese 44 fans, vessel is fitted with 3 generators of 1100 KW capacity each. There are 6 movable internal rampways, which can be adjusted to provide the access to the various decks as required by the stevedores. When closed and secured, these movable rampways provide the gastight sealing for the various fire zones of the vessel. There is a massive50 mt SWL table lifter. This is essentially an elevator which can lift heavy vehicles of up to 50 mt weight, which cannot be driven up the internal rampways, from deck 6 to deck 9. The areas of the car decks,where cars are stowed, is enormous, covering a total area of about 60,000 sq mtrs, roughly the size of 11 football fields. When the ship is fully loaded, however, there is barely space to walk on these decks.
Everything about this ship is huge in terms of size and numbers. There are 715 fire detectors on board (14 additional detectors have been fitted in Engine Room by ship's staff in order to increase fire safety). The vessel has a total of about 36,000 pcs of lashing material of 13 different types. There are over 2200 tube lights in the car decks itself. There are 260 portable fire extinguishers and 111 fire hoses on board. All these fire detectors, lashings, fire extinguishers and hoses, and lights need to be regularly checked and maintained, a daunting task by itself. The vessel has its own service car (a Toyota Hilux pick up) which is used for transporting lashings and cleaning materials from one deck to another. The vessel also has its own fork lift, used for the same purpose and even to assist cargo operations in ports where proper equipment may not be available.
Captain's experience: In spite of working on these ships for a number of years, I can never cease to be amazed whenever I look at the ship from a jetty. The sheer height and size of her never fails to strike me with awe. With a height from keel to the upper deck level of 37 mtrs (roughly corresponding to a 12 storey building), a length of 200 mtrs, a Panamax beam of 32.20 mtrs, a hull windage area of about 5000 sq mtrs and a Gross Tonnage of 57449 she hardly looks like a ship. The vessel looks more like a menacing monster awaiting the order to unleash her power and cut through the water at her maximum cruising speed of 19.7 knots. When standing on the bridge wing for berthing, looking down on the jetty far below can make you feel a bit dizzy!
These vessels were essentially built to service the Japan - Europe trade and to load cars, heavy vehicles and machinery from Europe to the Persian Gulf. However, due to the vagaries of the international car trade business, these vessels have been going almost anywhere and to almost any port. Though these large vessels were built with the North European ports in mind, they have been calling ports which are really not suited for a vessel of this size. Ports like Hodeidah (Yemen), Tripoli (Libya), Tartous (Syria), Casablanca (Morocco), Colombo, Kuwait are some of the ports where the vessel has been calling regularly, but in some of these ports the berth sizes are much too small for a vessel of this size.
These vessels have a very hectic schedule, regularly calling as many as 13 ports in 20 days. Following is a typical schedule in a Persian Gulf run, where the vessel calls 11 ports in about 8 days:
Port Sultan Qaboos 20th/0615 20th/2030
Fujairah 21st/0630 21st/0900
Ras-al-Khaimah 21st/1850 21st/2130
Sharjah 22nd/0215 22nd/0715
Dubai 22nd/0915 22nd/1400
Jebel Ali 22nd/1742 22nd/2300
Abu Dhabi 23rd/0500 23rd/1300
Doha 24th/1645 25th/0715
Bahrain 26th/0030 26th/0400
Dammam 27th/0015 27th/0745
Kuwait 27th/2400 28th/0645
It is an extremely hectic and exhausting schedule, made even more difficult by the dehydrating summer Gulf temperatures of upto 45 degrees C. In these temperatures the car decks virtually turn into ovens. As you can see from the above schedule, in a 24 hour period, the vessel has called 4 ports in the UAE. The sheer logistics of this kind of schedule is mind boggling. This means 4 berthings, 4 unberthings, 4 port arrivals and 4 port departures, 8 pilots picked up/dropped off, 4 separate cargo operations, 4 dealings with different agents and port authorities, all in a period of 24 hours! One can say that the ship is similar to an aircraft, only difference being the aircraft probably has longer stays at airports!
One may well wonder if it possible to ensure the safety of the vessel under such trying conditions. It is possible, but it requires a great deal of planning beforehand and an extremely well co-ordinated bridge team to ensure the vessel navigates safely under these conditions and to enable the officers to get a certain amount of rest. The passage plans for the various short voyages within the Gulf need to be studied and discussed beforehand with the bridge team. Plans are drawn up to ensure that the chief officer only takes care of cargo operations and berthing / unberthing stations and does not take part in any navigational duties. The 2nd and 3rd officers rotate on a 6 on 6 off basis carrying out navigational duties and cargo watches as required. The cadet assists the master on the bridge for berthing/unberthing stations. This is the only way one can ensure that a rested officer comes on the bridge for the navigational watchkeeping. As for the master, he has to get his rest whenever he can. During the short port stays there is hardly time to unwind and sleep. Quarantine authorities, customs officers, port state control inspectors, shipchandlers, all require to be attended to. In Persian Gulf waters, the master has to be on the bridge for most of the sea navigation and thereby does gets very little rest. To add to this, arr/dep messages to be sent, eta updates to forthcoming ports, port papers to be readied, all without the assistance of a radio officer! A lucky master can just about manage to catch a couple of hours sleep in a 24 hour period.
Another problem which is probably not much understood and not given much importance by people ashore, is the constant changing of time on board. When the vessel is cutting across time zones at the rate of about 470 miles a day, we have to advance or retard our ship's clocks at almost one hour every day. A lot of studies have been done on jet lag and how to minimize it, but probably nobody has studied the effects on the human body of the slow torture of changing your body clock by an hour every day! We on board know well the effects: sleepless nights or waking up at unearthly hours in the morning, feeling sleepy when you need to be wide awake, general hungover and tired feeling which refuses to go away. And no sooner has your body has just started adjusting to a new time zone in ports, the vessel sails out and the time starts changing all over again!
When the vessel is carrying a full load of vehicles, the greatest hazard to the vessel is from fire. Cars with petrol in their tanks is one of the greatest fire hazard. A fire in any one of the cargo compartments can spread rapidly throughout the vessel, with the risk of destroying the vessel and its cargo completely. To prevent the outbreak of fire, we take special precautions on this vessel. Fire rounds of the car decks, accommodation and Engine Room are carried out every 4 hours on a round the clock basis. Additionally Engine Room UMS rounds are carried out every 2 hours when the Engine Room is unmanned. During cargo operations, we keep a strict vigil to ensure "No smoking" regulations by stevedores are followed and that no unsafe practices are being carried out. These precautions are necessary as there was a catastrophic total loss of a car carrier along with its full load of vehicles due to a fire caused in the car decks while discharging at Sharjah in 1998. This fire was caused by stevedores carrying out jump starting of a vehicle (using another battery connected to the dead battery of a car in order to start the engine) while fuel was being loaded in another car nearby. The resultant spark ignited the fuel, and the fire which started with one car, spread rapidly throughout the cargo, resulting in the ship and it cargo being declared a total loss.
To prevent such a fire spreading with such disastrous results, the fire zones of the vessel are always kept sealed at sea, and whenever any zone is not required for cargo operations. We also incorporate in our drills, fighting a car deck fire in port, one of the most difficult situations, as it involves evacuation and head counts of stevedores, quick securing of ramps and other movable rampways in order to seal off the fire zone and subsequent fighting of the fire with CO2 and other means. The vessel is equipped with a fixed fire fighting system consisting of a low pressure fixed CO2 installation containing 53 mt of liquefied carbon dioxide. Maintenance of the engines is an ever present problem. The vessel always berths on arrival and sails immediately as soon as cargo work is completed. There is never time to carry out major maintenance work during port stays. Also between voyages there is rarely a break.
The vessel finishes one voyage and starts loading for the next. In the rare and lucky occasion that the vessel gets a day or two of anchorage in between voyages, the opportunity is taken to carry out overhaul of Main Engine units after ensuring that the weather is going to be all right (with the master keeping a nervous eye on the wind indicator while the engine is being opened up!)
There is a great amount of work to be done on these vessels. After the vessel is loaded, daily rounds to check and adjust the lashings. With a cargo of about 5000 units, there could be 23,000 lashings to be inspected and tightened if required. The cars are to be inspected for any damages which may have been missed at the time of loading. Regular and careful rounds of car decks to ensure that cars are not being damaged by any water or hydraulic oil leakages from the vessel. We carry a highly sensitive and precious cargo and it must be delivered in the same new condition as it has been loaded. After all, would you buy a car that has a few paint scratches or a tiny dent? The Japanese car manufacturers are extremely particular that no damage occurs on their vehicles. To uphold the car manufacturer's and NYK's reputation, we do our best and take all the precautions required to strive for zero damage to the cargo.
It is said that car carriers are safest while sailing at sea, less safe when at berth, and least safe when at anchor. With its massive windage area, these vessels are affected a great deal by the wind. One has to make allowance for this while navigating in narrow channels. When you are berthed and there is a strong offshore wind, the vessel can be pushed off the berth. When the vessel is at anchor and wind speed exceeds 15 m/sec (30 kts) there are very high chances of dragging the anchor. Life on these vessels can be a constant struggle against the weather. One of the other constant worries is the vessel calling small ports with narrow entrances and limited berthing space. The vessel is really not suitable for such ports, but as mentioned earlier, due to ever changing requirements of the car trade business, one has to call at these ports. Ports that are really difficult to berth include Piraeus, Colombo, Hodeidah, Casablanca. Whenever this huge monster of a vessel has to berth at such ports, it is an extremely stressful experience. There is a tremendous amount of work involved in maintaining the ship to the exacting level required by NYK and Wallem Shipmanagement Ltd. Keeping a huge vessel like this with its enormous number of equipments in top level condition is a difficult task, but we have been carrying it out in the past and are striving to still do so. Many visitors on this vessel have been astounded by her size and even more amazed when told that she is being operated by a crew of 20! These sprawling car decks must be swept clean and mopped after each voyage in order to be clean and ready for the next cargo. Some areas of the car decks may require de-scaling and painting, if paint drying time permits (after getting permission from NYK for the painting). The 36,000 lashings must be collected, inventoried (there are 13 different types of claspers, web lashings, belts, chains and hooks), maintained and kept ready for use for the next loading, which sometimes, as in Europe, begins before the last port cargo is discharged.
In our endeavour to maintain the vessel and its safety requirements we are assisted by the Nav9000 inspection. Nav9000 is NYK's Specified Requirements for Safe Operation and Environmental Protection. It is acode specifying requirements for the safety management system which NYK line and its shipmanagement companies should have in order that NYK line may fulfill its responsibilities to secure the safe operation of operating ships and protect the environment for its clients and society. The Nav9000 checklist for inspection contains almost 600 items. A lot of work has to be carried out in preparation for the audits which are carried out every 6 to 9 months to check vessel's Nav9000 compliance. But this has helped us to improve our standards of safety and environmental protection. One of master's important jobs is to see that staff is not being stressed beyond levels of endurance,obtain sufficient rest under the most trying conditions, and keep up the morale which can sink low due to the stressful schedule and also due to the rare chance of stepping ashore. Is there anything special which sets apart personnel working on PCCs from the the rest? No special certificate is required to work on these vessels, no special endorsement required on your certificate. Just the quality to accept hard work and endless working hours with a smile, the ability to face new challenges every day, and to maintain a sense of humour under the most difficult circumstances. It certainly is most helpful if the officers and crew have served on PCC/PCTC earlier, though this does not always happen. As for the master, chief officer and chief engineer, it is certainly a must that they have previous experience on these type of vessels.
I would like to thank Wallem Shipmanagement Ltd and the charterers Nippon Yusen Kaisha Tokyo for their guidance and support in running this vessel, maintaining her to the high standards required, and in our aim to reach our goal of "Zero deficiencies, zero cargo damage, zero off-hire and zero engine stoppage".