What is a ro-ro ship?
A ro-ro ship is a transport ship that can be loaded using the roll on roll off procedure.
The counterpart is the LoLo procedure, which is made up of the terms “lift on, lift off” and requires a crane to lift the loads or the transported goods.
The RoRo ship has now become widely accepted and is regarded as the most frequently used type of ship in international goods traffic, especially over short distances. The advantages are numerous.
What does a RoRo ship do?
Loading times are particularly short on a RoRo ship. The reason is that hardly any precautions need to be taken inside the ship and no external aids are required.
Vehicles such as trucks, cars or even trains or wagons simply roll onto the ship or containers are brought on board using tractors specially designed for this purpose. A RoRo ship usually not only has loading facilities at the bow and stern, but also hatches on the sides. Loading or unloading often takes only a few hours and there is no need for a sophisticated infrastructure in the port.
A RoRo ship can cover both short and medium distances. Good examples of this are provided by maritime traffic across the Baltic Sea, but transatlantic connections via ro-ro ship also exist. The speed that a ro-ro ship can reach is around 20 knots, and even 24 knots for ferries, which also fall into this category in a broader sense.
However, those who use a ro-ro ship today also sometimes use slow steaming, as this saves a great deal of fuel and makes the transport of goods more efficient. However, RoRo ships are not designed as fast ferries, as used in passenger shipping, or even catamarans.
Today’s RoRo ships are designed primarily for trucks. Where there used to be pure rail ferries in the past, this segment is now almost non-existent and is referred to as combined ferries.
What's one thing against a ro-ro ship?
The RoRo ship is of course not always the best choice. It should always be noted that the outer skin of the ships is provided with large openings. Due to the construction, this results in potential risks for water ingress.
However, today’s ships are protected against such incidents by numerous bulkheads. In addition, there are scuppers and bilge pumps which quickly transport excess water back from the ship. If one takes a look at the number of ro-ro ships that have sunk, however, the number has remained within fairly narrow limits at twelve since the 1950s.
History of the RoRo ships
In some places, the first RoRo ships are already accepted for the time of the crusades. What is certain is that in those days, gate ships were used which were able to carry whole carriages including the horses. The horses were brought on and off the ship via ramps, so that these were highly efficient fleet transporters for the time.
In modern times, a RoRo ship was particularly well known in the field of rail ferries in domestic traffic and the landing crafts of the Allies in the Second World War also functioned largely according to the principle of “roll on, roll off”.
Little by little, civilian passenger shipping also discovered the advantages, which was especially the case since the end of the Second World War with the progressive use of private cars. Car ferries and, in parallel, Ro-Ro ships transporting goods were created.
Combined forms of ro-ro ships
Nowadays, the principle of “RoRo ship” is combined again and again and adapted to individual requirements. In this way, a number of ship types such as the ConRo ship or also the LoRo ship and the RoPax ship were created. The advantage lies in the combination of different forms of transport, so that a shipping company can meet all existing requirements.
A ConRo ship combines the possibilities of a classic container ship with those offered by a RoRo ship. Corresponding ships have been in use since the 1960s and have car decks or decks for trailers as well as the classic holds for container transport.
A LoRo ship can also be used to transport mixed cargo, although military purposes can also be accommodated. This type of ship is also used in regions where container ships or a RoRo ship are not suitable or do not permit its use. However, this type of ship is more of a specialised ship and is a niche market from an economic point of view.
The ro-pax vessel is particularly important, being a mixture of a transport vessel and a passenger ship or ferry. The decks can be used as well as the lower area where the vehicles are safely parked during the park. Such RoRo ships have an extensive infrastructure of restaurants, bars and shops and thus provide the shipping company with lucrative additional income.
The largest RoRo ship in the world
One of the largest RoRo ships in the world is the Skåne. The ship is a combined rail and RoPax ferry and was launched in 1997. This ro-ro ship measures 199 metres in length and is 29.60 metres wide. It has a draught of up to seven metres and a measurement of 42,705 GT. With its four diesel engines and a total output of almost 40,000 hp, the ship is used on the ferry line between Rostock and Trelleborg in Sweden, among others.
The Skåne can take 600 passengers and 55 carriages as well as 500 cars on board. The current gauge meters are 1,110 for rail and 3,295 for RoRo.
Another contender for the title as the largest RoRo ship is the MS Celine, which operates between Rotterdam, Zeebrugge, Dublin and London. This ship was built in 2017 and is 234 metres long and 38 metres wide. The draught is 6.40 metres.
Even larger and also in the RoRo ship category are the identically constructed ships of the Mark V class, which were launched in 2011 and 2012 under the names Tønsberg, Parsifal, Tysla and Salome. These are pure car carriers with a capacity of 6,000 cars and a length of 265 metres. They have a width of 32.26 metres, a draught of up to 12.30 metres and a measurement of 75,251 GT.
In direct comparison with the largest container ships and bulk carriers, but also cruise ships and oil tankers, the dimensions that a RoRo ship can have are still modest. Lengths of more than 300 metres are not uncommon in this sector. However, new ro-ro ships are being built all the time, so that it is probably only a matter of time before the 300 metre mark is reached.