Let's say you're going to spend... I dunno, between 15 and 75 Million US Dollars to build yourself a nice bulk carrier, or a handysized container/breakbulk ship... or even a reefer boat... whatever, you're building a new ship. Congratulations.
Why would you design a ship that is completely miserable to fuel up? Wouldn't you want your bunkering operations to be safe and fast, so that your crew can do the million other things to be done on board?
Now, chances are, unless the ship is being built for a highly specialized run between two ports, your first concern might be usability. You want your new ship to maximize profitability over the long term, and, aesthetics aside, this means being built to last, but at a low cost. OK.
Still with me? Check this out:
(Photo courtesy of marinetraffic.com)
This is your average medium-sized self-unloading bulk carrier, a versitile workhorse of about 450-feet I think. Now, once every few weeks or so, someone is going to have to bring their barge alongside, tie up to the ship, and pass a very, very heavy fuel hose to the ship, and transfer around 1000 tons or so of fuel oil. Now, the barge that does that will be anywhere from 150- 250 feet long herself, here in the US. If that barge is loaded, it may be carrying 3,000 tons of oil for other customers who are waiting in line. The barge might be big, and it might be heavy, is what I'm saying... and to add to the pucker factor, the barge will have to get within a meter or so of the ship, and then be lined up such that the fuel hose will be in the neighborhood of the fueling connection on the ship. Get what I'm saying?
There's a delicate dance to be done when a larger-sized bunker barge needs to line up with a ship.
Here's my bunker barge moored alongside a pretty little ship. Notice the little hose snaked between us. This is a small hose used for transferring small parcels of diesel. The fuel oil hose is twice that size, and the 30-meter (100-foot) hose we use most often weighs several tons, even when empty.
Now, take a look at that first ship again.
The fueling connection (called a manifold) for this ship is through a small hatch (door) on deck level, inside the house, about 15-20 feet (5-6 meters) inside the doorway. The doorway is next to the whaleback, under some stairs used to get from the elevated poop deck (the deck at the stern of the ship) to the main deck.
What does this mean? The gentleman who designed this ship put the bunkering connection somewhere where it can't be easily accessed, where a crane or boom can't get at, and where the guy who watches over the fueling operation can't see or hear anything going on elsewhere in the ship!
Anyhow, with the assistance of 5 men, two chainfalls, a length of rope and several crowbars, the crew was able to get my fueling hose to the bunker connection, which included dragging roughly 1000 lbs. of hose and steel through a narrow hallway without mechanical assistance. I'm pretty sure that I saw one guy stagger off holding the small of his back. I'm assuming that he didn't get that sore back from watching porn in the TV room.
Now, another awesome thought about ship design: If you're going to expect your ship to be refueled, you need to put the barge somewhere. This has several implications.
1) Take a good look at the shape of the hull of the ship at the base of the house. Beautifully curved- a hydrodynamic wineglass-shaped stern with a lot of reversed tumblehome, in fact. Very nice in a sea. Not so nice for a bunker barge to get close to. In fact, it is very easy to get ones' barge and/or associated tugboat pinned under that flaring stern, or to poke a hole in the side of the ship should the barge not land squarely against the hull. This happens about once a year between Boston and New York, alone, and always results in spilled oil, it seems.
2) Without a flattish hull profile, it gets increasingly difficult to get a barge smoothly and squarely against a ship's hull. Note the second picture, however. The ship in that photo had a hard-chined stern- lots of hull for us to bounce off of in the process of getting tied up... but then again, the manifold on that ship was midships.
3). IF BUNKER BARGES ARE GOING TO BE ALONGSIDE, THEY NEED TO TIE UP SOMEWHERE!
About 20% of all reefer ships ('fruit boats') don't have any chocks or bitts for another ship or barge to make fast to along the working portion of the cargo deck.This means that a couple thousand tons of ship and fuel might just have to be shackled to your handrails, which, for the most part, are designed more to support hands than bunker barges. There's always a 10% or better chance to break the sturdiest of handrails when this is done, which is part of the reason why reefer ships usually look like pieces of shit when viewed up close. Lots of repaired welds, dents, and bent steel.
And this brings me to the crux of my questioning. When designing a ship that has fuel storage tanks throughout the hull of the ship (an oil tanker, conversely, will usually have its' bunker tanks aft of the cargo tanks, just forward and maybe under the forward portion of the engine room and machinery spaces), like many bulkers, break bulk carriers and container ships of all sizes, why wouldn't you put a fueling point midships, where the crew and barge can easily work unimpeded, and the fueling point is in the middle of the main bunkering line that runs the length of the ship anyhow?
For that matter, why not have more than one manifold, to give the ship maximum versatility in terms of being able to bunker in almost any port? The only ships I've seen with multiple bunkering manifolds are oil tankers and a couple of old rickety OBO's (which, in the end, don't even have forward fuel tanks, anyhow). For the cost of 2-4 extra valves, a meter or two of modestly-sized piping, and a pressure gauge, bunkering could be done with 1-2 people on deck, as opposed to 5, and I wouldn't have had to watch Ivan Ivanoff stagger away like a drunk trying to shake off a rabbit punch. Realistically, one lost-time injury could pay for a second bunkering station in ships of the sort I've shown here.
I can't say much about manning in the international fleet; I suspect that a replacement is always a phone call away, and I've heard of foreign ships sticking AB's with internal injuries on 12-hr flights, only to have the sailor die in the air. In the US fleet, however, there are plenty of retirement-age sea-lawyers just waiting with baited breath for a soft-tissue injury or a blown knee to counteract a long career of living paycheck to paycheck. Imagine the JHA (Job Hazard Analysis) that would go along with an awkward bunkering operation like what I saw today. OSHA would shit kittens.
The US doesn't build ships better than anyone else; they just cost 10 times more than anyone else's ships, and take 10 times longer to build. We have the same bunkering issue; All the same, fueling-related injuries and accidents make up a visible portion of the media- covered shipping news. Minimizing those incidents should take greater priority, and could be done with a few strokes of the architect's pen in newbuilds.
Finally, when the day comes when criminalization of accidental oil spills is a more uniform practice, dingleberries like me, responsible for refueling operations, are going to have to protect ourselves, and that means refusing bunkering jobs.