When the blockage of the Suez Canal made global headlines recently, and launched a thousand internet memes in the process, Jon Nation, General Manager, Marketing, Propulsion & Electrical Power Systems at Wärtsilä took a keen professional interest in the story. What he couldn’t have known at the time is that the event would have dramatic consequences for his plans to revamp his family’s Friday-night pizza tradition. With his new pizza oven stuck onboard indefinitely, his mind wandered to the importance of manoeuvrability in today’s busy shipping lanes.
Few shipping-related news events have captured the world’s attention as much as the recent blockage of the Suez Canal. In 2019 the canal was used by over 19,000 ships carrying nearly 1.25 billion tonnes of cargo, or around 13% of world trade, so
it’s no surprise that the blockage quickly had a ruinous effect on global supply chains. With the significant uptick in online shopping caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us know somebody who has been left empty handed as a result of the
“After months of lockdown in the UK, quality family time to distract from the daily grind has become more important than ever, so I decided to order a pizza oven to reboot Friday evenings,” explains Nation. “When I found out that it was delayed due to the Suez blockage it got me thinking about how reliant we have all become on the thousands of container ships plying the world’s oceans and how any kind of incident can have massive knock-on effects for everyone, from massive insurance companies to individual consumers like you and me,” he continues.
“In the grand scheme of things there are obviously more serious problems than my missing pizza oven,” admits Nation, “but any kind of delay in global supply chains can have really serious consequences. Whenever this kind of thing happens
it leads not only to frustrated customers, a potential loss of reputation and potentially hefty compensation payments, but to a lot of paperwork, emails and phone calls for many thousands of people too.”
“Whether it’s collisions in congested ports and shipping lanes or small mistakes in route planning and execution, many of these incidents could be avoided with solutions and technology that cost a tiny fraction of the overall expense incurred if things go wrong.
Take the GATE RUDDERTM by Wärtsilä, for example, which replaces the traditional rudder system with a unique design formed of two foils on either side of the propeller. This thrust-generating arrangement provides excellent manoeuvring capabilities
and improves the vessel’s ability to maintain a set course. It also enables turning at higher speeds with decreased turning circles and faster course changes. “In terms of mitigating the risk of collisions or course deviations, gate rudder
technology has to be one of the best-value options out there,” says Nation.
Gate rudder also comes in handy with crabbing – the sideways movement typically needed in ports or other narrow places. “In crabbing mode, you want sideways, 90°, thrust but a flap rudder’s maximum angle is around 65°. In contrast, the blades of a gate rudder can be rotated up to 110°, resulting in 75–80° thrust that delivers an excellent lateral force and less forward thrust, which improves aft manoeuvrability,” notes Nation. The total area of the blades in a gate rudder is greater than a standard flap rudder, which further improves lateral thrust. In addition to crabbing, this thrust can be used as a counterforce to strong winds or currents, which can help prevent collisions.
As well as enabling better manoeuvrability, the gate rudder also allows for quicker crash stops than a traditional flap rudder. “Rather than being restricted to turning only to starboard and port directions the twin blades can also be rotated forwards, which creates additional drag and brings the vessel to a halt faster, a great help in collision avoidance,” explains Nation.
“While a gate rudder won’t help my pizza oven arrive any sooner,” laments Nation, “it does go to show that global shipping is embracing innovative technology all the time.” Apart from the widespread disruption to supply chains, the other reason that the Suez blockage was such big news is that these kinds of major incidents are very uncommon; more mundane collisions, however, are unfortunately not. “For this reason, any kind of system, tool or device that can help reduce their occurrence has to be a good thing for crew, vessel owners, charterers and, ultimately, end customers like me and you,” concludes Nation.
Find out more about Wärtsilä Gate Rudder