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The expansion of coastal shipping in the United States may have moved a step closer to reality with the announcement that Roadships America Inc. plans to build eight high-speed ro-ro cargo ships.

“This is not pie in the sky. Roadships has finalized the high-speed monohull design, the operational considerations have moved to their final design phase, and decisions will be made in the next 30 days or so as to which class society will be used,” said Mark Yonge, managing member at Maritime Transport & Logistics Advisors LLC based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The company is serving as a consultant to Roadships America, which is based in Reno, Nev.

The monohull design proposed for the program was conceived in the early 1990s by Kvaerner Masa-Yards in Helsinki, Finland, for coastal routes in Europe. The hull form was tested and refined over five years to reduce drag and improve sea-keeping capabilities at speeds over 30 knots. “The outcome was a highly efficient hull form that offers the least resistance and allows the ship to maintain speed up to SS5 (sea state 5),” the company said.

In recent years, the U.S. Maritime Administration has been vigorously promoting coastal shipping, or short-sea shipping, as it is known in the industry. MarAd has been looking for ways to shift cargo away from congested highways and railroads and onto underused coastal waterways. There is growing optimism among advocates of short-sea shipping that the dramatic rise in fuel prices for trucking companies and railroads as well as improved marine technologies could tip the scales in favor of fast vessels.

The Roadships America proposal suggests that real progress for coastal shipping may be at hand. The 656-foot-long wave-piercing monohull would have a 25-foot draft and would be able to carry 148 53-foot trailers on three decks.

The enclosed weather deck has been designed to protect the cargo from exposure to the weather while at sea. The vessels will be able to load and unload from two decks simultaneously through an upward-opening stern gate and with minimal interior obstructions. That arrangement is designed to achieve port turnaround times of six hours.

The original propulsion system plan called for gas turbines, but the current design employs high-output diesel engines developed in the last five years. The diesels are expected to provide dramatic reductions in fuel costs. These fuel savings should make the vessels more economically competitive with other transportation modes, while improving diesel technology continues to reduce environmental problems.

By Professional Mariner Staff