Imagine a glass-fronted cruise ship almost a mile long and 30 storeys high, driven by 100 diesel engines. The Freedom Ship, as it has been dubbed by Norman Nixon, the US engineer behind the project, is a floating condominium 1,320m long and 180m wide. It would house up to 85,000 residents (most of them millionaires) in 20,000 apartments and cost $6bn (£3.6bn) to build.
According to its US backers, around 70% of the finance needed to build the ship is in place. This could be good news for Northern Ireland or for Scotland, rumoured to be possible locations for construction of the floating community. The project would create up to 36,000 jobs.
The international market for cruise ship design and construction is enjoying a boom. All the major cruise lines have invested in new vessels and the ships are getting bigger. Only last month, P&O subsidiary Princess Cruises took delivery of the 2,600-passenger Grand Princess, the first of three new vessels which, at 109,000 gross tonnes (gt), are the largest and most expensive in the world.
The Grand Princess is 18m taller than Nelson’s Column and at 48m across is wider than the wingspan of a Boeing 767 airliner. Even larger vessels of 130,000gt are being built in Finland for P&O-rival Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
But these designs would be dwarfed by the Freedom Ship and other proposed cruise ships.
Another US company, World City Corporation, says it has lined up $250m of equity and is negotiating a US government loan to build a 387m, 250,000gt cruise ship, containing three hotels with 2,800 guest rooms, and 100,000 sq ft of conference and exhibition facilities.
The vessel, named America World City, will not compete with the conventional cruise market (worth around $7.5bn per year), but is aiming instead at the much larger market for meetings and conventions, which is said to be worth around $60bn.
Proponents of this new breed of behemoth believe they have identified virgin markets in which they can operate without competing against well-established cruise lines.
The foremost British designer of these next-generation cruise ships is John McNeece, who unveiled his futuristic Cruise Bowl project earlier this year. McNeece believes that for too long the cruise industry has been driven by engineering, rather than marketing.
According to him, most cruise ships remain true to a tradition stretching back almost 100 years, from which he feels they should now break free. McNeece’s vision, and that of designers like him, is quite different. ‘If the industry is to realise its full potential,’ he says, ‘marketers must set the challenges for designers, engineers and shipbuilders to follow.’
Meeting the challenges that McNeece and his US counterparts foresee would change the nature of the cruise market. If they are right, the cruise ship of the future would be a destination in its own right, rather than just a luxurious means of transport. The new generation of ships would be designed not to take passengers anywhere in particular, but to bring them together and entertain them, or provide them with unrivalled business facilities.
McNeece’s Cruise Bowl is one of a number of concepts that have come out of his Saltire project, which aimed to get those in the cruise industry to change a mindset that has endured for a century.
Essentially a massive floating venue, the Cruise Bowl is the result of market surveys McNeece conducted in Europe and the US to find out what a younger generation of passengers want from a holiday.
At 427m long, with a beam of 360m and capacity for 12,000 people, the 500,000gt vessel would be about two-and-a-half times as large as the Grand Princess and could cost $1.5bn.
Passengers would be ferried to and from the craft on a pair of satellite vessels, themselves large in comparison with many conventional cruise ships. On board the Cruise Bowl, they would attend sporting events such as tennis matches or basketball, or go to rock concerts, ceremonies and award evenings.
‘The typical shipboard holiday has remained unchanged for years,’ says McNeece. ‘You get a holiday on a ship with some entertainment thrown in. What we are proposing with the Cruise Bowl is something completely different, in which guests are attracted to sporting events, concerts or conventions, and the cruise becomes an add-on.
‘Instead of taking a rock band or orchestra on tour to several different venues, the Cruise Bowl would travel round the coast and host events in different parts of the country.’
This cruise ship of the future would also break new ground in the use of novel lightweight materials, construction techniques and pro- pulsion systems.
McNeece told a recent cruise ship convention in Miami: ‘Shipbuilders, naval architects, designers and marine engineers are going to have to change their approach, using experience from the aerospace and offshore industries.’
With a massive arena at its heart, the Cruise Bowl would be unsuited to a conventional long, slender hull. So, in another departure from convention, the main ship and its satellite craft would be based on broad, stable, multi-hulled vessels of a type known as Swath (small waterplane area twin hull).
Proponents say that the huge amount of space on vessels such as the Cruise Bowl and Freedom Ship will entice potential passengers for whom conventional cruise ships are just too cramped. On the Freedom Ship there will even be 80ha of open space, with grass and flowing water.
However, critics of these radical cruise concepts say that living on board any ship with 85,000 other people could be a miserable existence. They point out that concepts such as America World City have been proposed before, but have proved too costly to finance.
The size of designs such as the Freedom Ship seem to dictate that modular construction techniques would have to be employed, with sections built in different locations and brought together for final assembly.
Critics also question whether a vessel the size of the Freedom Ship, or McNeece’s Cruise Bowl, could be dry docked for maintenance and repair (see panel above).
But McNeece is certain that what he calls ‘entertainment-based’ cruise ships will be built. He has already been contracted by interested parties in the entertainment and retail sectors to undertake more detailed work on the Cruise Bowl concept.
Attacking a speed barrier
Two British designers, David Giles and Nigel Gee, are at the heart of a revolution in the design of high-speed container ships. A new generation of high- speed vessels is needed because although shipping goods by sea costs about a tenth of the price for air transport, it is very much slower.
But aircraft can carry only a small fraction of a container ship’s payload, says Giles, who is technical director and chief designer at FastShip Inc in Philadelphia. He adds that delays on land mean that it can still take up to a week for air freight to be transported across the Atlantic.
Giles is the inventor of the FastShip concept, one of a number of designs which use novel propulsion systems and hulls to speed up freight transport by sea.
Phenomena known as pressure drag and cavitation limit the speed of standard container ships with conventional hulls and diesel engine/screw propulsion. Giles has likened the situation to that faced by the aircraft industry in the 1950s. Aircraft experience a dramatic increase in drag as they approach the speed of sound; a new propulsion system the gas turbine and new wing designs were needed to overcome this.
Marine gas turbines and the waterjet a relative newcomer to the marine propulsion scene can overcome the limitations of existing container ships. Both are widely used in the new generation of fast passenger ferries.
Waterjets are ideal for high- speed marine propulsion because their efficiency increases with speed. Gas turbines, meanwhile, can provide enough power to drive large ships at high speed.
The FastShip concept combines gas turbines and waterjets with a semi-planing hull, which has a deep, V-shaped bow for cutting through waves. The stern is wide and shallow, with a concave, slightly hollow underwater profile.
The FastShip’s high speed over 45 knots (80km/h) compared with around 35km/h in most normal container ships is only one advantage. It is also highly stable and can maintain speed in bad weather. Waves of the type often encountered in the Atlantic in winter can slow down a conventional container ship by 20 30%, or 10km/h.
In spring, the FastShip design successfully completed a major structural design review by classification society Det Norske Veritas. Giles claims this ‘is as important as when the FAA approved the initial commercial design of the Boeing 707’, the most successful of the first generation of commercial jet aircraft.
FastShip Inc expects to place an order for the first vessel by the end of the year. If it does, a ship capable of transporting 1,400 containers could enter transatlantic service as early as 2000.
Meanwhile, Nigel Gee & Associates of Southampton has also developed a number of fast container ship designs. Although not as speedy as the FastShip, they offer shipowners significant advantages. Some designs are already on order for shipping line Norasia.
Several yards have also requested quotes for a faster, 55km/h design, which uses an innovative pentamaran hull.
Ultimately, says Gee, this hull could be used in a 65km/h design, which would be capable of carrying 1,500 containers.