Greenheart Project – Reinventing sail in the South Pacific
This week I had the pleasure of meeting Gavin Allwright, Director of the Greenheart project. Greenheart project is developing sail cargo ships initially to link up communities on the islands of the South Pacific. However their ambition is that these ships will have worldwide appeal for sustainable transportation of cargo.
The design of these ships is being developed on an open source platform enabling a wide range of brilliant to contribute. The result is a shallow draft schooner rig sailing ship capable of transporting up to 3 container ships with a length of 32 metres. The ships will also have solar electric motors to supplement the sail power. The ships feature an innovative mast design which enables the mast to function as a crane and loading device.
The ideal crew number will be 6 with a minimum operational crew of 3. The first ship will cost around 1/2 million US $ with further ships estimated to 20-30% less once production is scaled up. The brief is to develop cost effective ships to link islands in the South Pacific.
Why the South Pacific?
The project was approached by the leaders in Tuvalu and Figi. The islands are facing increasing difficulties growing food due to rising sea levels causing salinization of the soils (basically salting up). The islands are also facing water shortages. With rising fossil fuel costs for the ships bringing vital supplies the leaders of these island were looking for sustainable long term solutions. Apparently 40% of Figi’s foreign exchange goes on importation of fossil fuels! With such high levels of importation it is easy to see how sail powered transportation could make a radical difference to islanders and sustainable development.
The first ship will be built in Bangladesh in the same ship that is currently being used to refit Rainbow Warrior II. Rainbow warrior II is being repurposed as the hospital ship for charity Friendship. Rainbow Warrior II, renamed The Rongdhonu, will enable Friendship to bring health care to vulnerable and marginalized communities living along the coastal belt of Bangladesh. As a floating hospital she will provide primary, secondary and emergency health care to those who have little or no access to basic health care facilities. The building of the first Greenheart ship will commence as soon as the rebuild is complete, which will be around November this year.
I quizzed Gavin on what the big shipping companies thought of his vision and he explained that initially they were skeptical (what? you only carry 3 container ships?) but that they quickly saw the appeal. Shipping companies are facing increasing pressures from rising fuel costs and must operate at 95% capacity to cover running costs of which the largest slice is fuel. This means that a ship will only really start to turn a profit in the last few days of transportation. This begged the question why the big companies aren’t funding or developing these new sustainable ships. Apparently worldwide people are being laid off or made redundant from the large shipping companies. In this climate it is difficult for companies to justify putting money into new technologies and ships. Looks like sustainable sail cargo is being left to the entrepreneurs!
Ultimately Gavin sees these smaller scale cargo ships being the perfect complement to the larger hybrid B9 ships in development .