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Mother-Daughter Ship to Boost Short Sea Cargo

More goods will need to be transported by ship to meet stricter environmental guidelines. A Norwegian maritime cluster has found the answer in a ship-in-ship short sea cargo concept.

Norway, which has the sixth largest merchant fleet by market value, also believes that short sea shipping will be an instrumental part of a sustainable and environmental friendly maritime industry. As part of its new national maritime strategy “Blue Growth for a Green Future” launched this June (2015), the Norwegian government has proposed initiatives for short sea shipping, such as a scrapping bonus for old coastal vessels.

“We hope to see this implemented soon, and that the ship owners will spend this scrapping bonus in investing in new environmentally friendly vessels like Short Sea Pioneer,” said Hege Økland, NCE Maritime CleanTech managing director.

Short Sea Pioneer will help move cargo transport from roads to sea. Source: Maritime CleanTech


The Norwegian Center of Expertise (NCE) presented its ship-in-ship design concept Short Sea Pioneer to the Ministry of Trade and Industry this February. Based on a Design Driven Innovation Project partly financed by the Norwegian Design Council, the cluster’s group of designers, ship operators and research institutions developed a way of transporting goods to smaller harbors without having to offload at large ports for further transport via truck.

The solution involves a larger mother ship that carries all types of cargo – from timber to small items – that can be transferred to the daughter ship while it is docked into the mother vessel. The smaller boat can then go to smaller ports along the Norwegian coast near industry areas, such as Odda, Maløy, Svelgen and Hardanger, which are not accessible to larger vessels. Ship operator Norwegian Container Lines, one of the main project partners in the Short Sea Pioneer project, estimates it can realize NOK 400 million in value creation from lower fees and NOK 60 million in added revenue.

“The situation for NCL today in Svelgen, where we pick up cargo for (Norwegian metals producer) Elkem, is that the port where we pick up the goods are too small and the goods have to be transported by truck to larger ports where they are loaded onboard,” said Arne Jakobsen, NCL managing director in a statement. “This applies to more and more places along the coast.”

Short Sea Pioneer is a mother-daughter ship concept for short sea shipping.Source: Maritime CleanTech


Moving more goods by sea would help reduce road congestion and pollution from road traffic. The volume of goods transported is expected to rise by 30-40% over the next 25 years. That represents about 80 million more trailer trucks putting wear and tear on the road. This could reduce the societal burden of maintaining the roads and traffic accidents, while also reducing emissions.

The Short Sea Pioneer will contribute to the green shift by powering its mother ship partly by LNG, a more environmentally friendly fuel than Heavy Fuel Oil as it eliminates sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions, significantly reduces NOx and also some greenhouse gas emissions. This will help meet the new demands for the 0.10% SOx limit for Sulfur Emission Control Areas which entered into force this year (2015). A global limit of 0.50% is expected in 2020.

Both ships in the Short Sea Pioneer concept could also employ battery technology and fuel cells as well, making the daughter vessel potentially a zero-emission ship. This would make the concept particularly suited to the EU market, where there are many environmental efforts towards reducing emissions and sending more goods by sea.

“The EU has higher political targets when it comes to transporting goods from land to sea,” said Økland. “This concept will answer many of the political national challenges. There would be many business areas for Norwegian companies, from building to operating the boats.”


The main challenge for Short Sea Pioneer will not be technology. The concept is based on transferring technology from other industries, which have used similar ship-to-ship solutions, albeit not in the same way. German towing company Bugsier, for example, has developed a Flexible Feeder Barge that uses a transport barge connected into an installation dock ship for offshore wind farm installations. Short Sea Pioneer could be among the first to employ a daughter ship that docks into the mother vessel directly. Maritime CleanTech is also considering a solution for side-by-side transfer of cargo to make the ship as fully flexible as possible.

“This is known technology, most of it,” said Økland. “We are just transferring it into a new area and putting it into a new logistic system.”

The real challenge ahead will be to get the project commercially viable. Maritime CleanTech is currently in the process of evaluating future partners for developing the project further. The previous partners in the Norwegian Design Council study phase included NCL, Wärtsilä, Servogear, Fjellstrand, Westcon, Eidesvik, SKL, and Eker Sandvik. The Norwegian Center of Expertise plans to identify new partners by the end of this year. But the project will still need additional support through possible new government schemes, such as a recycle bonus for scrapping Norway’s ageing coastal fleet, incentives for green logistic solutions, better financing terms for ship owners, or a continuation of the NOx Fund, which is set to expire in 2018.

“If we are very optimistic, in two to three years we can see this on the ocean,” said Økland.