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Car carrier

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What's a car carrier?

Car carrier are special RoRo ships, which are designed for the transport of cars. They are often referred to as Pure Car Car Carriers (PCC) or Pure Car And Truck Carriers (PCTC).

The largest Pure Car Carrier (the Höegh Target) can transport up to 8500 cars on 14 different decks and is intended for trade from East Asia to Europe. This so-called New Horizon class is almost 200 meters long and 36 meters wide and is therefore not the longest car transporter despite the largest loading capacity.

How are car carriers loaded?

On this cargo ship mainly cars and trucks are loaded, but also buses and tractors can be shipped without problems. Loading and unloading a car transporter poses a particular challenge, as each vehicle has to be loaded and secured individually.

When the ship arrives at the port, a large team of drivers is already waiting at the terminal. The keys are usually already in the car and the respective driver only has to bring the vehicle on board or off board.

History of car carriers

Before special freighters were developed for the transport of cars, cars were shipped with conventional general cargo ships and the ships were loaded and unloaded with cranes. The cars were often taken along as additional cargo on so-called banana steamships.

The inadequate load safety, both for the vehicles and for the main load, and the increasing demand for transport options for large numbers of vehicles, however, led the shipping company Wallenius to develop specialized ships. It was not until the early 1950s that the ship “Jakara” was converted into a car bulk carrier and the first real car transporters (the Rigletto and Traviata) were delivered.

In 1958, the Blohm+ Voss shipyard developed special suspension decks, which were installed in the following years on around 250 cargo ships in order to equip them for the transport of cars. This hanging system first allowed an optimal use of cargo space for the transport of cars, but the ships were still loaded and unloaded with the ship’s own cranes. Since these ships mainly shipped VW Beetles to America, the hanging decks for the return voyage were pulled to the hold ceiling and the cargo holds filled with grain.

The RoRo method ( Roll on / roll off ), which is common today, was introduced at the end of 1963 on the ship type “Aniara”.


Technical features of a car carrier

Car carriers are easy to recognise from the outside because they have strikingly high side walls. The large surface area of the side walls poses a great challenge for the captains in strong winds, as the ships run the risk of drifting off course.

Behind these side walls, the ships have several tweendecks so that the vehicles can be loaded on top of each other. Ramps inside the ship take the vehicles from the lower to the higher tweendecks.

Particularly noteworthy is the low height of the tweendecks in order to keep the loss of cargo space to a minimum. Some of these tweendecks can even be adjusted in height, which also ensures optimum use of the cargo space.

For loading and unloading the ships usually have two ramps which are located on the sides, bow or stern in order to keep the loading time as short as possible.


Fields of application and routes of car carriers

The PCC’s are used in the worldwide maritime trade and bring new and used vehicles such as those of the German manufacturers from Europe to America and from there import models of the North American manufacturers back. The large PCC’s do not only operate between two ports, but often dock at more than 10 different ports before they return.

In the individual ports, parts of the cargo are unloaded and other vehicles are brought on board, which means an enormous logistical effort and requires precise planning. The largest port in Europe specialising in the handling of cars is the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.

With approx. 2.8 million cars handled annually, it lies ahead of the BLG terminal in Bremerhaven (2.3 million). The somewhat smaller PCC’s, which can only load a few hundred cars, are also used in feeder traffic or inland navigation.

Car carrier in inland navigation

Inland navigation is still a relatively young market segment, as it was not until 1982 that the company began bringing vehicles from the Ford works near Cologne to the Netherlands.

The relatively smaller inland waterway vessels have loading capacities of up to 600 vehicles and only have up to five height-adjustable tweendecks in the hold. Modern PCC’s used in inland navigation are up to 110 metres long, approx. 12 wide and have a draught of only 3.2 metres to withstand the low draught restrictions.

In order to master waterways with low bridge crossings, some ships are able to dismantle the top deck. In order to be able to navigate flexibly in the narrow fairways, most inland car carriers have a bow propeller in addition to their stern propeller.

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