Fast craft adds jet power to transatlantic shipping

A fast cargo ship designed to cut transatlantic journey times by more than three-quarters is due to begin sea trials next year.

The FastShip consortium behind the £1bn project, which includes Rolls-Royce and General Electric, is hoping the ship will be able to make the crossing in three days rather than the usual 21.

The vessel, which uses a water-jet propulsion system, is also projected to deliver transatlantic freight in seven days door to door, nearly as fast as by air, but at between one tenth and one quarter of the cost.

Historically, shipping delivery times have lagged behind the average three to four days it takes airfreight to be delivered door to door because cargo ships rarely reach speeds above 20 knots (around 25 miles per hour). At higher speeds, pressure on the propeller blades causes potentially damaging vibration.

Dr Ian Ritchey, head of research and technology at Rolls-Royce Marine, said the new propulsion system uses a diesel engine originally designed for aircraft. This will give the 750ft (250m) long ship a top speed of around 43 knots (50mph).

The conventional hull shape has been rethought to accommodate jet power. The semi-planing monohull is intended to perform like a speed boat, by surfing the bow wave to minimise contact with the water and reduce drag.

The US Maritime Administration is putting $875m (£603m) into the project, with further funds raised through the consortium of companies and organised by investment bank J P Morgan.

The consortium includes engine makers Rolls-Royce and General Electric; the Delaware Port Authority; the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation; France’s Cherbourg port; a Philadelphia-based shipping entrepreneur; and ship designers Osprey UK and Copenhagen- based Ship Tech.

The ships will be built at a San Diego yard.