How the world has changed! In one decade, China’s iron ore imports have increased from 200mt (million tonnes) to 700mt per year. In this same decade, India’s imports of thermal coal have increased to 100mt from almost zero. Such a phenomenal growth in demand for bulk cargo in Asia has had a huge impact on all aspects of bulk shipping. Importing countries require deliveries in Capesize vessels to reduce cost of imports, in order to achieve economies of scale which has put enormous pressure on port infrastructure. China requires deep sea ports for ore exports from iron ore mines in Africa and Australia, while India requires these for coal imports. Both countries have embarked on growth rates close to 10%, which means that the infrastructure, of an unprecedented scale, must be developed on a fast-track basis. Huge investments are required since loading Capesize vessels requires a minimum of 20 metres draught in very challenging locations. This has created a demand for transshipment on a scale not anticipated a decade ago.

Seabulk Systems Inc of Canada has been involved in transshipment projects for over two decades. The development of the Semi Submersible Transshipper (SST) and the Goan Pride (GP) represent innovative implementation of new technologies and systems. Both innovations have been duly recognized by the Marine Bulk Industry the SST is based on SWATH technology and GP is the World’s first Capesize selfunloader. Now, Seabulk has embarked on another ‘fit for purpose’ concept. This is the introduction of the ‘Moveable Virtual Port (MVP)’.

The concept is based on providing a ‘just-in-time’ system, which will allow an exporter/importer to load/unload Cape vessels without investments in major port infrastructure. The MVP is a virtual port which operates exactly like a shore-based bulk terminal with the capability of stacking, reclaim and storage. Not only does it have the capacity to fully load or receive Capesize vessel cargo, it also has the ability to re-position competitively to several locations within 500 nautical miles. This is achieved by use of special pneumatic fenders, which are stored on deck by davits when the vessel is ready to sail. The MVP will also store enough bunker fuel on board for a full year operation, thus requiring no bunkering facilities at each transshipment site.

As a result, marginal exporters with a requirement to load small tonnages (such as a million tonnes per year) and cannot afford a load port can simply dial a transshipment service. Within a few days, the MVP will mobilize, complete loading and sail to the next exporter. This is exactly how a ‘Readymix’ truck is able to pump concrete at different construction sites on a ‘just-in-time’ basis.

Seabulk will install a MVP in West Africa in 2013. This will be tailored to deal with the entire region, from Guinea to Ghana. Delivery of cargo from the load port to the MVP will be achieved by a fleet of tug/barges, which will be integrated with the MVP. The MVP specifically planned for West Africa will also deal with the problem of loading high moisture iron ore concentrates that exceed the ‘Transportable Moisture Limits (TML)’ for safe carriage in ocean-going vessels. This will be accomplished by the installation of an onboard dewatering system, which will act as the covered storage with drainage that is commonly seen at bulk terminals. The basic characterization of transshipment is ‘when the ship cannot come to port, the port goes to the ship’. Seabulk is achieving the full meaning of this statement through its MVPs. The MVPs provide connectivity to shore based stockpiles through a network of shuttle vessels, store cargo on board like a bulk terminal, achieve load rates comparable to conventional ports and have the ability to load/unload cape vessels.

After its initial success, Seabulk plans to install more MVPs in West Africa which is the world’s fastest growing iron ore producing region. Similar MVPs are also planned for the Indonesian Islands, which suffers from exactly the same challenges as West Africa for the export of thermal coal. In India, MVPs are being considered as a solution for unloading coal from Cape vessels and delivering it to draught receiving facilities at various independent power plants (IPPs). Seabulk’s MVP addresses the reality of the unprecedented import growth in Asia and is the ‘most valuable product’ of the 21st century.