Japan — Third of the big three

Updated 5 Sep 2019

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Japan is the third of the big three and can claim a much longer span as the world leader, having been in front from the 1960s through to 2004. In terms of ship numbers, Japan actually heads South Korea, but the types of ships produced are on average about 30% less in deadweight terms than its rival. It would be wrong to say that Japanese yards have not been affected by the downturn in shipping, but the loyalty shown by customers has to some degree levelled out the declines seen elsewhere in the world.

Bulk carriers from Handy size through to Ultramaxes are a speciality of Japanese builders and they have a loyal following, from both domestic and foreign buyers. The same can also be said for the chemical and product tankers and the large box ships of between 10,000teu to 14,000teu although ships of 20,000teu are also under construction. Car carriers, LNG carriers and passenger ships are also produced in reasonable numbers.

Japanese yards have been at the forefront of optimising hull shape across a range of vessels and various builders have developed their own signature bow forms – often eliminating the bulbous bow – and energy-saving devices such as hull appendages and propeller embellishments. An example of the energy saving measures that can be applied is shown in the hull form of the car carrier Beluga Ace delivered last year.

Beluga Ace is the first of owner MOL’s next-generation “FLEXIE” series and was built at the Minaminippon Shipbuilding yard. The vessel marks a major advance in functionality, with six liftable decks, compared with two on conventional car carriers, allowing it to more effectively meet demand for more diversified vehicle and high and heavy cargo transport.

The rounded bow shape will minimise wind resistance and is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by about 2% compared to today’s car carriers. The new shape is the result of joint research by MOL, MOL Techno-Trade and Akishima Laboratories and is one of the environmental impact-reducing technologies developed in the MOL Group’s ISHIN Next – MOL Smart Ship Project.

Another example of a very different ship type is Mitsubishi Shipbuilding’s new generation Sayaringo STaGE LNG carrier. At first sight it would appear to be a membrane type but it is in fact a covered Moss tank ship. It is the successor to the Sayaendo (‘podded peas’) type, which was highly acclaimed for its improved highly-reliable Moss-type tanks. The apple-shaped (‘ringo’) tanks in the Sayaringo STaGE has enabled an increase in LNG carrying capacity without changing the ship’s beam and its propulsion system has significantly boosted fuel efficiency compared to the Sayaendo.

The second part of the design name – STaGE – is an acronym derived from ‘Steam Turbine and Gas Engines’ and indicates the vessel has a hybrid propulsion system combining a steam turbine and engines that can be powered by gas with further use of the engine’s waste heat in a steam turbine. The first ship of the type, Diamond Gas Orchid, was delivered in June last year.

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