CONTROL PANEL: On the bridge of the Höegh Target Autoliner on its first visit to Port Elizabeth are, from left, David Gwabeni of Transnet Port Terminals, Höegh Autoliners Africa head William Hepplewhite and Höegh Autoliners sales director Shane Warren
In front of him is a 5m-long desk with seven monitors, a variety of knobs, switches and buttons, several compasses and what looks like a car steering wheel. It is from here that the Höegh Target Autoliner, which docked in Port Elizabeth yesterday, is piloted.
With a 71 400m deck – 10 soccer fields – and a capacity of 8 500 cars, it is the world’s largest pure car and truck carrier. The mammoth 14-deck vessel yesterday stood as tall as the port cranes, dwarfing the Opel Corsas being dropped off for General Motors SA. The cars were unloaded off the 375-ton cargo ramp – the weight of about 75 elephants. The ship’s sheer size is matched only by its technology, which to the untrained eye is overwhelming. The desk, with its screens and gadgets, powers the 20 500-ton vessel.
The vessel’s average speed is about 15 knots (28km/h). Port Elizabeth was its first of two stops in South Africa. The stops are part of the ship’s maiden loop voyage, which started at Masan, South Korea, on July 6. The vessel made its way along East Asia before heading for Europe and back to East Asia via Africa and Australia. Chen, a captain for 19 years, said the journey took about four months.
The vessel never docks for longer than two days at any given port.
“Surprisingly, this vessel is not much harder to steer than other carrier vessels I have been on even though this one is much bigger than I am used to,” Chen said. “The massive engine makes it quite manageable.”The captain showed off the ship’s facilities like the crew gym, with weights, a treadmill and a spinning bicycle, and a recreation room with surroundsound and flat screen television.
Leading the tour group through the precision-parked cars on the top five decks, he turned out interesting facts about the vessel’s capabilities and capacity. “The new technology – and green technology – on board is very advanced. The main engine produces 50% less carbon dioxide emissions than a standard car carrier,” Chen said. “I look forward to returning to Port Elizabeth next year.”
Despite its size, the vessel is manned by only 21 crew members – engineers, deck officers, electricians or caterers, all housed below the water level. Höegh Autoliners Africa head William Hepplewhite said it was the first in a series of six vessels which would dock in the Bay in the next few years. “This vessel takes about nine months from building to setting sail. [It has] a lifespan of 30 years before the company strips the entire ship down. “Then everything is washed and cleaned and recycled to build the next vessel,” he said. “The five decks have adjustable panels which can be set according to cargo requirements.
“The captain’s bridge is much wider, allowing the captain to align the ship perfectly in ports, and a host of new technology.” Transnet Port Terminals car terminal manager David Gwabeni is already looking forward to the ship’s return. “It confirms the confidence customers and shipping lines have in us,” Gwabeni said.
Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber chief executive Kevin Hustler said:
“This type of vessel improves efficiency and turnaround opportunities for companies to deliver large orders into the European and African markets . . . this vessel docking here [shows] what the city is capable of handling.”