Environmental assessment of a high speed river freighter



Olaf A. Willemse M.Sc., Maritime Simulation Rotterdam b.v., Rotterdam, The Netherlands


The demand for freight transportation has increased enormously throughout Europe and is expected to keep growing for the foreseeable future. With roads becoming ever more congested, numerous new concepts of transportation are being developed, designed to create a shift from road transportation to other forms of transport.

Inland shipping has some of the most promising designs that can create a shift from road to river cargo, thereby avoiding the congested roads through utilisation of the vast network of available rivers and canals in Europe, where the capacity for growth of traffic is still available.

This article will show the possibilities and advantages of using real time, full mission simulations to assess the operational capabilities of a new ship design. The European project Partial Air Cushion Support Catamaran (PACSCAT) will be used as an example to illustrate this type of assessment.


Developing new concepts of ships requires a large investment of money and resources. To minimise any economical risk, extensive studies into the actual capabilities of the ship have to be conducted. Some of these studies are standard exercises, such as towing-tank studies and 3D-potential flow simulation. Real-time, full mission simulations of a new vessel design are hardly being performed, although the advantages are numerous. This article will show an example of the possible benefits of using real-time, full mission simulations as performed by Maritime Simulation Rotterdam BV as part of the PACSCAT.

The PACSCAT project

The European freight market is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. To prevent the roads from becoming more congested, with all the environmental damage that this brings along, moving freight by other means of transport is an essential development. Waterborne transport, for instance, is known to be less polluting than transportation by road.

In 2002 a European Consor tium started with the development of a new concept vessel, designed to provide an environmentally friendly alternative to transportation of freight by road, the PACSCAT. The ship was designed by Independent Maritime Assessment Associates (IMAA) Ltd. whom, together with the University of Southampton, took up management of the European consortium in order to optimise the design and performance of the PACSCAT.

Combining high speed with a low draft enables the PACSCAT to compete effectively with road transportation year round. With a payload of 1,900 tonnes, or roughly 45 trucks, the PACSCAT is designed to reach an operating speed of 18 knots (33 km/h) making a round trip from Constanza to Passau in six days instead of the two weeks that it takes conventional barges to complete the same journey.

Objective of the PACSCAT project

The PACSCAT project is funded under the European Growth programme, designed to stimulate projects that will increase the competitiveness of Europe, whilst simultaneously increasing sustainable development. The PACSCAT had the aim to satisfy both, making it possible for the European freight market to continue its growth without creating more damage to the environment.

For the design of an inland ship, there are also some general restrictions that have to be considered. The maximum height, width and length of a ship are restricted by the rivers’ infrastructure, like bridges and locks, while the water depth of the river brings more difficult limitations, varying throughout the year. The last, but certainly not least of the problems commonly encountered by fast vessels on inland waterways, is the limitation of the height of the generated waves. High speed usually means that much energy has to be used for propulsion. This normally causes high waves (wash), which can hinder other vessels or damage the shore infrastructure.

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