Exclusive Interview with LNG Vessel Designer Hans Karel Stam - Part 2

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 second part of this two-part interview, Hans talks about the difference between designing vessels, cars, and planes, the next generation of containerships, and the potential for autonomous vessels.

CONTAINERSHIPS NORD was the first of Containerships’ LNG-powered vessels to take to the waves in 2019, meaning that from the first initial discussions, around nine years had elapsed before the vessel could start to move cargo in the real world. The reasons for such a long development process are not all down to the design itself, but also in the unique project that designing a containership is.

“The process started back in 2010 and finished in 2017, but that was the duration of the project. The actual design process itself is about one year.

"Shipbuilding is often compared with car, building, and aircraft design. The most distinguishing thing between shipbuilding and those other trades is that often we have to design a completely new project within the shortest time possible, and basically have to design the amenities for a small village, including a kitchen, sewage control, and sanitary functions for the crew, and that for me makes it so interesting because you have all these functions you need to incorporate and which you need to make function within a small island so to say. For cars and aircrafts, the intent is not to build one or a handful, but to build hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, and so the lead time and the amount of funds invested prior in the design are much higher because if you get it wrong, the effects may be much greater.”

Having played his part in designing the first LNG-powered containership in Europe, kickstarting a move towards LNG-powered vessels that will form the intermediate phase of a long-term goal to transition to a zero-carbon supply chain, Hans Karel already has his sights set on the next generation of containerships and is excited about the possibilities.

“I think a really exciting new area within the ship design and building industry is the advent of new fuels. What really excites me is that we may get the possibility of an all-electric ship and, whilst this has been discussed for decades now, I’d really like to take those power generation concepts and use them in new designs because they would really allow for radical ship designs.

"There’s innovation in fuel cells so the production of electricity onboard in changing. Because electric motors and propulsion can be built in a much smaller package and you can detach the actual generation of the proposer, something often called an electric shaft, that means you could design whole new forms and utilise hydrodynamic shapes much better than now, because now we’re limited to the positioning of the engine, propeller shaft, and propeller, which all need to be within each other’s vicinity.”

Any discussion around the future of the maritime industry would be incomplete without a discussion on the possibility of autonomous vessels that have zero crew. Whilst not entirely the work of science fiction, Hans Karel has his doubts over the likelihood anytime soon of fully autonomous and crew-less containerships.

“Obviously if you don’t have to cater for a crew, your whole design becomes different. You don’t have to build a deck house and you can eradicate a number of systems solely dedicated to the crew, so in that sense it makes ships much simpler.

"Whether it’ll work I’m not quite sure. If I think about recent events in the Suez Canal, and imagine an autonomous vessel losing power in a raging storm, you cannot get onto the vessel, maybe the vessel is floating on the North Sea in between all of the wind parks, I wonder what you would do. Certainly you can, depending on the size, build in a lot of redundancy in your vessel so you can mitigate the risks, but if you add all those costs up, will that balance the benefit of having a crew on board? Think about the maintenance you can do onboard. The crew aren’t just sat onboard in their cabins, they’re actually doing stuff. I have mixed feelings about these developments whether they will work or not.

"On certain trades, I think it’ll work, but it’s always a little bit dangerous to speak about these developments. I think back to how cell phones were perceived when they first came about. There were many doubters, but history proved them wrong, so maybe it will work. My concerns are more around who will do the maintenance, if maintenance always needs to be done in a port then these costs must be factored in, so with these costs does it still work? I’m sure there are other factors that would influence that decision as well.”

So whilst the exact shape of the future of the shipping industry is yet to be decided, what’s clear is that there are many outstanding minds looking at the possibilities. Could an all-electric containership one day be transporting your cargo across the oceans, and will there be any people onboard to wave to from the quay?

For now, the shipping industry is at least focused on the right goal: reducing the harmful emissions associated with shipping through the use of use of alternative fuels and striving towards a carbon neutral future.

If you’re looking to reduce the carbon emissions of your cargo transportation, be sure to check out our ACT with CMA CGM+ range of value-added products. They’re designed to help you analyse, reduce, and offset the emissions associated with the transport of your cargo, and are far more affordable than you might think. You can read more about the products on our ACT with CMA CGM+ for Containerships page.