Exclusive Interview with LNG Vessel Designer Hans Karel Stam - Part 1

May 26, 2021

To celebrate the arrival of our fifth and sixth LNG-powered vessels, Containerships sat down with their designer, Hans Karel Stam, of SMB Naval Architects and Consultants, to ask him about their story. In the first part of this two-part interview, Hans talks about the challenges of designing vessels for LNG, the process involved, and the limitations on capacity.

Back in 2019, Containerships was the first cargo transport operator to launch an LNG-powered containership on the waves of Europe. Since then, our LNG-powered fleet has expanded to five vessels with another on the way this summer.

However, the route to becoming the sustainability leader in multimodal cargo transport in Europe wasn’t as simple as just putting a few LNG-powered vessels into service. In fact, the journey started way back in 2013 when Containerships enlisted SMB Naval Architects and Consultants to design our first LNG-powered vessel.

To celebrate the arrival of CONTAINERSHIPS BOREALIS and the imminent delivery of CONTAINERSHIPS STELLAR, and as part of our sustainability campaign, we sat down with the designer of our LNG vessels, Hans Karel Stam, to ask him all about vessel design, the challenges of incorporating LNG propulsion, and the future of containerships.

With 25 years in the naval design industry under his belt, Hans Karel has seen his fair share of rudders and hulls, but his interest in ships goes back to one particular childhood memory.

“I think I can trace that all the way back to my early childhood where we had a holiday in England. I forget whether it was Southampton or Cardiff but they had these electric-driven paddle boats and my father took me in one and I was able to steer it. This got me excited as a boy of five or six and my father remarked “perhaps you’ll be a captain someday” which got me all proud. The story didn’t end well because the battery cut out and my father had to paddle all the way home, but that got me interested in everything to do with ships, so I’ve been interested since childhood.”

After taking a course in naval architecture, Hans Karel succeeded in finding his way into the ship design industry, and with so much experience under his belt, he’s in no doubt about what the most important element in containership design is.

“The containers are the most important aspect. This may come as a no-brainer but it’s often forgotten. It’s all about taking as much cargo in as small a package as possible. Nowadays decarbonisation and zero emissions are also important, but in general, transporting the most cargo with the least consumption is the big-ticket item for all container vessels, whether they need to carry 600 TEUs or 23,000 TEUs."

Of course there are limitations on how many containers any ship can carry.

“One of our favourite sayings is ‘we can’t beat Archimedes’, so whenever we’re asked for something that’s too ambitious in terms of capacity for a certain sized vessel, this is the rule that dictates what we do.”

With a capacity of 1,380 TEUs, Containerships’ LNG vessels are particularly spacious and perfectly suited for the routes they operate on, but achieving that figure wasn’t without its challenges, something Hans Karel can allude to.

“The biggest challenge is making sure the LNG system doesn’t get the better of the design. That’s because, within the feeder market, any space comes at a premium due to things such as port restrictions, and restrictions on how ships are handled by pilots or at terminals, so you have a lot of different criteria along which you have to design a vessel. Basically, it means you cannot just choose the length, breadth, or depth of a vessel that you would like, you have to take all these criteria into account. Typically, this limits the amount of space for your fuel, which with liquid fuel isn’t much of a problem because fuel can go anywhere, but with LNG it’s a whole other story because you have to take the tanks into account. Basically, getting the most volume into a limited size vessel was a very big challenge. In addition, you have to take into account the extra equipment that normally wouldn’t be on a vessel this size.”

With Containerships’ LNG vessels operating predominantly on our BALT routes, into the Baltics and Scandinavia where frozen seas are not uncommon in the depths of winter, they are required to be capable of operating all year round even in below freezing temperatures. This also had to be considered in the design of the vessel.

“These vessels are called Finnish-Swedish 1A ice-class vessels meaning the whole structure is specifically reinforced to deal with ice loads, and the engine power, rudder, and propellor are all designed taking these ice loads into account. One particular aspect that we had to take into account was the fact that ventilation and the ambient air may have an impact on the steel qualities that are used, so that was discussed at length during the design and build process. In the end it was incorporated into the design so that the vessel can handle very low temperatures during certain periods of the year.”

Check back on Monday for part 2 of this exclusive interview with our LNG vessel designer, Hans Karel Stam.