By Mark Cardwell

When he started out as a marine navigator on the Great Lakes in the early 1980s (sailing on older vessels built in the 1950s), Kirk Jones says turning the desk-sized wheels on lakers required all the strength a man could muster. “They had telemotor control for steering gear,” he recalled. “But it was 600 feet back to the engine room so it took everything you had to move the hydraulic oil through the lines.”

Today Vice-President Sustainability, Government and Industry Affairs for Canada Steamship Lines, Jones marvels at the easy manoeuvrability of the company’s four new Trillium Class self-unloading lakers, which are equipped with ultra-modern electrical and computer-run control systems as well as variable speed, fixed pitch dynamic thrusters in both the bow and stern – a first for Canadian flag trading vessels.

“Back in the day you could really only go forward and back,” said Jones. “But with thrusters you can move these new ships in any cardinal direction you want safely and with pinpoint accuracy. And you can do all that with a lever that I can push with my baby finger in a wheelhouse that looks like the bridge (on the USS Enterprise) in Star Trek. It is truly amazing.”

Advanced manoeuvrability is just one of the many paradigm-shifting features that make CSL’s next generation of vessels the new standard of bulk shipping excellence in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway market.

The new vessels are part of a nine-ship program that was started by CSL Group at two Chinese shipyards in 2010. In addition to the four lakers, the order includes three Panamax-sized self-unloaders for the company’s international fleet and two bulkers for the Canadian fleet.

The first of the four new Trillium Class lakers – the Baie St. Paul, which was built at the main yard in Jiangyin – arrived in Montreal in early December. Named 2012 Bulk Ship of the Year in November at the International Bulk Journal Gala in Hamburg, Germany, the Baie St. Paul will be the first ship into the Seaway in March, officially opening the world-renowned maritime trade route for the 2013 sailing season.

Its three sister ships – the Thunder Bay, the Whitefish Bay, and the Baie Comeau – are scheduled to arrive later this year. CSL International also recently welcomed the Rt. Hon. Paul E. Martin, the first of the three Trillium Class self-unloading Panamax vessels that will also arrive in 2013, bolstering the ranks of what is already the world’s largest fleet of self-loading vessels.

According to several senior officials within CSL Group, the new vessels were designed and built with state-of-the-art operational efficiency, safety and environmental friendliness top of mind.

“Our buzz word for the project was efficiency,” CSL President Louis Martel told Canadian Sailings in a recent interview. “Our goal was to cut fuel consumption and to reduce our environmental footprint while making these ships as safe and as comfortable for our crews as possible. Each one of the thousands of features we selected was chosen with those objectives in mind.”

For Martel, a naval architect who led the design phase of the newbuild project as Vice-President of technical operations with Massachusetts-based CSL International office – a position he held until his promotion to President of Montreal-based Canada Steamship Lines last spring – the main efficiency-boosting feature of the new ships is the high-performance IMO Tier II main engine, which increases fuel efficiency and reduces both nitrogen oxide and particulate matter.

Similarly, the engines also have power takeoff generators that furnish the ships’ electricity needs more efficiently. “Previous generations of ships have one big engine for propulsion and three generators that produce the electricity needed to run other onboard systems,” explained Martel. “But the main engines on our new ships power an alternator from which electricity is drawn. That cuts fuel consumption and also reduces wear and tear, noise and maintenance.”

Similar savings are being achieved, he added, from the use of variable-frequency drives – or VFDs – in the new ships. A type of adjustable-speed drive used in electro-mechanical drive systems to control AC motor speed and torque by varying motor input frequency and voltage, VFDs offer increased performance as well as reduced energy costs due to the slow ramping up of power as compared to the power surges that are typical of motors on older ships. “We paid a bit more to get (VFDs),” said Martel, “but the savings we will achieve in electrical consumption will help to pay for it very quickly.”

He expects similar savings will result from the new ships’ custom hull design, which notably increase cargo lift and fuel efficiency. On the environmental side, Martel says the new ships’ fuel tank cofferdams offer increased spill prevention, while their new-generation self-unloading equipment offers a double benefit: increased spill protection and reduced noise – a welcome feature in ports where residents live within earshot of the waterfront.

The Canada Steamship Lines President also lauded the use of high-performance, energy-efficient LED lighting and the high levels of automation throughout the new ships (features like tank sounding and the use of centrally-controlled video surveillance cameras, many of them in hard-to-reach operational stations of the ships) for improving the on-board working and living conditions for crews and engineers alike.

“Everything is much easier for them to monitor and run,” said Martel. “There is less need for manual labour and for walking around the ship in order to inspect or repair things, or to stay in touch with other crew members.”

He pointed to the finger-touch manoeuvrability of the new ships as a prime example of the enhanced onboard environment. In addition to eliminating the need for costly tug services, Martel said the bow and stern thrusters, which are linked to the ship’s GPS-based navigational system and feature dynamic positioning, enable the ship to maintain its position in rough seas and/or high winds, and has also done away with unwelcome traditional tasks for crew members.

“Let’s say we’re waiting for another ship in the Welland Canal, maybe in the middle of the night or in bad weather,” said Martel. “Normally you have to go along the wall and put two guys ashore for a couple of hours and tie off. With the thrusters we don’t need to do that because they keep the ship in the set position. The result is less handling, less stress and less wear and tear on our crew members.”

Claude Dumais agrees. A veteran marine engineer who oversees CSL’s fleet operations as Vice-President, Technical Operations – and who worked closely with Martel and the many other company employees and professional contractors in Canada, the United States and elsewhere who were in involved in the design and development stage of the Trillium Class project – he said the health and welfare of crew members were at the heart of the planning process from the get go.

“We wanted and tried to build an economical asset that was also an easy ship to work on,” he noted. In addition to features like the thrusters and more mooring equipment (notably eight winches and some additional capstans to handle ropes) than on the best-equipped of CSL’s 20 Canadian flag vessels (12 self-unloaders (including the Baie St. Paul) and 8 bulk carriers) on the Great Lakes-St-Lawrence Seaway system or its pool of 28 ocean-going self-unloaders (11 of them wholly owned by CSL), Dumais said decisions like grouping offices together near access points to the ship and adding modern creature comforts like Internet, Wifi and satellite TV were all made in an effort to have happy crews.

“The thing I’m most proud of is that we did a pretty good job building ships around people,” said Dumais. “Starting with the wheelhouse, which is essentially a one-man operation because of the integrated layout, we’ve made these ships easy for crews to handle and control from top to bottom.”

In many ways, that process began a decade ago when CSL started to consider specifications and designs aimed at both expanding and modernizing its Canadian and international fleets in an effort to both maintain and grow its share of martime trade in both domestic and international markets, which were hitting historic levels.

“From the perspective of a shipping company, the life span of a vessel is 25 years so you need to build one or two a year to keep up with the turnover,” explained Rod Jones, President and CEO of the CSL Group. “But that hadn’t happened in Canada, where for a number of reasons there has been no shipbuilding for 30 years.”

Despite Canada’s weak dollar (which increases the cost of imported products) and the 25-percent duties that the Canadian government imposed on foreign-built ships at the time, Rod said CSL made inquiries at several shipyards in China, South Korea and elsewhere in the early part of the new millennium about the possibility of building several new self-unloaders. However, he said there was a decided lack of interest because most yards were overwhelmed with orders for conventional cargo ships, and were reluctant to take on more orders for the construction of complicated and niche market vessels like self-unloaders.

As a result, Jones said management and the Board of privately-owned CSL decided instead to invest in extreme makeovers of several vessels in its laker fleet and single-body tankers for international work. “We basically kept the engines and aft ends (and) cut away the rest,” said Rod, an American who began his long career in the maritime world as an engineering officer on an LST (for ‘Landing Ship Tank’, or what wags called ‘Large Slow Targets’) out of San Diego. “It was a good measure that kept us going and allowed us to meet demand. But we still wanted to build more efficient ships of our own.”

CSL’s chance came after 2008 when a strong Canadian dollar, coupled with an end to the 25-percent duty and a drastic, recession-driven drop in both orders and the building costs at Asian shipyards made the construction of both new lakers and ocean-going vessels possible. “The stars suddenly aligned for us,” said Jones. “We needed and wanted to build new ships with a quantum leap in the capabilities and efficiencies over the existing ships in our fleet. Running the cleanest and most efficient ships we can has long been part of our overall corporate strategy.”

What followed was a hectic period of planning and paperwork that led to Request For Proposals for nine ships which were sent out through CSL Group’s office in Beverley, Mass. to commercial shipyards in China, Korea, Japan and Europe. The ensuing negotiations led to the signing of the contract with Chengxi in China in June, 2010.

According to Martel, who reviewed and worked with the design team, specialists and chief engineers who put together the specifications and detailed building plans that were eventually approved by the shipyards – a process that required the making of literally thousands of decisions on everything from the size of pipes and numbers of doors to the kinds of Wifi and TVs and the size of the engine and propeller needed to obtain maximum power and fuel efficiency – “shipbuilding is an ongoing process that requires constant verifications and modifications by people all over the place. It is an extremely complicated task for everyone involved.”

The construction phase, too, proved to be both complex and challenging. In order to ensure the quality of both the materials and construction of the vessels, which are turn-key ships that come with a one-year, bow-to-stern guarantee upon delivery, CSL organized and maintains a newbuild inspection team of some fifty CSL employees and freelance contractors at the main shipyard in Jiangyin, a two and a half-hour drive west of Shanghai on the Yangtze River.

“Finding people with the qualifications and the desire and the ability to go there to supervise the work was a huge challenge,” recalled Martel. He notably lauded the decision by CSL management, including his predecessor Gerry Carter, for the decision to offer employees in its technical departments in the Montreal and Boston-area offices a chance to go.

Notably, several young engineers jumped at the opportunity, a move that Martel believes will pay big dividends for them and CSL. “In addition to an amazing life experience, they will learn more about the whole process of shipbuilding – design, construction and trials – in two years in China than they will in ten years working in our offices here,” he said. “Everyone here wins from what they learned and will learn.”

Another challenge with the coming on line of new ships with such advanced propulsion systems, added Martel, is the need to train veteran CSL engineers and crew members on site and at sea so that they will be able to tune and adjust two-storey tall engines that are run entirely by electronic and computer systems.

“We’ve managed to stay up to date on the navigation side because we’ve been able to buy a lot of the newest technology for the bridge off the shelf,” said Martel. “But many of our ships have older engines, and one even has a 1959 engine that our guys use wrenches and tools to fix. Imagine the quantum leap the propulsion systems of these new ships represent for them.”

It’s for that reason, Martel added, that CSL is giving training priority on the new ships to younger crew members who, despite having less experience at sea, are more familiar with the use of computers and electronic systems. “It only makes sense,” he said. “It will enable us to have a good blend of new and old ships with crews that are accustomed to both.”

That mix of shipping options, together with the many cost-cutting features that the new Trillium Class of ships have to offer, has CSL’s Vice-President of Marketing and Customer Service feeling both excited and optimistic about the future.

“These new ships give us extremely high performance assets that will help us to maintain and grow our position and take advantage of emerging trade opportunities on the Great Lakes (and) where we continue to enjoy a long tradition of providing a high level of dependable, quality service,” said Dan McCarthy.

“Reliability is huge for our customers,” he added. “Whether you’ve got a multi-billion-dollar steel company with a blast furnace and a production line, or you rely on road salt for your city’s streets, it is essential that you receive the materials you need or ship your goods to market on time.”

For CSL Group President Rod Jones, the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent on the new Trillium Class ship-building project will prove to be a wise investment that will pay off in many ways in the coming years. “I think it shows our customers both our ability and our desire to meet the changing needs and regulatory realities of shipping goods by sea,” he said. “Having a blend of new and old ships is also good for the health of the company. There’s nothing worse than having too few or too many ships.”

The new ships, he added, will also provide CSL with a flexibility the company didn’t have just a few years ago. “Now we can either retire or extend the life of some ships to meet demand,” he said. “We have a couple of real old ladies who will likely be retiring. And the future of a couple of others will likely be decided by commodity prices.”

Jones said the company-wide effort to build the new ships – and the building and maintenance of on-site surveillance teams in particular, which has occasioned dozens of trips to China, many by him – has also provided CSL with a new corporate energy.

“This project shows our employees that management is determined that we remain on top of our industry (and) the fact that so many of our senior people visited the teams in China shows them how important these ships are for the health of our company,” said Jones.

He added that despite all the pressure-filled deadlines, long hours and hard work by so many people over the past few years, the project was marked by many highlights, not the least of which has seeing the completed ships sail into North America ports. "For an old shipping junkie like I am," said Jones, "walking around those yards in China and seeing these amazing ships being built was a real thrill.”

MV CSL Laurentien
Originally built in 1977 in Port Weller Dry Docks, Ontario and formerly named Louis R. Desmarais, it was rebuilt in 2001. It is a maximum size Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway self-unloader. It is fitted with a 1000-kW bow thruster and steering nozzle for greater maneuverability. Environmental treatments include being fitted with a dust covering and fixed spill tray on the unloading boom. Washdown holding tanks retain cargo hold residue and washdown water. The unloading tunnel is ventilated for coal and fully explosion-proof. Tunnel gates are operated by remote control.

MV CSL Laurentien
Engine: 2 Diesel
Speed: 15.0 knots
Total Power: 6,711 kilowatts
Gross Tonnage: 24,024 tonnes
DWT: 36,674 tonnes
Length Overall: 222.58 metres
Depth Moulded: 14.75 metres
Breath Moulded: 23.77 metres
Seaway Draft: 8.08 metres

MV Baie St. Paul
Built in 2012 in Jiangyin, China some of the innovative technologies found in the Trillium Class ships include an IMO Tier II main engine and generators which are electronically controlled offering greater fuel efficiency, improved environmental performance and significant reductions in emissions such as NOx and particulate matter. Self -feeding gates and enclosed boom reduce dust and noise. TBT-free anti-fouling hull coatings, LED lighting and integrated bilge treatment system help reduce environmental footprint. Innovative dry cargo residue system collects and treats wash water with capability to discharge ashore. Bow and stern thrusters enhance manoeuvrability, reduce strain on crews, and save time. The remotely controlled self-unloading system increases efficiency, and vessel performance monitoring instrumentation provides real-time information for achieving optimal propulsion efficiencies.

MV Baie St. Paul
Engine: 1 Diesel
Speed: 13.0 knots
Total Power: 8,750 kilowatts
Gross Tonnage: 24,430 tonnes
DWT: 37,690 tonnes
Length Overall: 222.61 metres
Depth Moulded: 14.76 metres
Breath Moulded:23.75 metres
Seaway Draft: 8.08 metres