Revival of the heavy-lift segment
DNV Review

Revival of the heavy-lift segment

Photo SAL Heavy Lift

The heavy-lift shipping segment is experiencing a revival, propelled by the burgeoning wind energy industry and its need for specialized vessels to transport oversized cargo. This positive trend comes despite a recent downturn in freight rates.

A surge in demand for transporting massive wind turbine components is driving newbuild orders for multipurpose heavy-lift ships, replacing an ageing fleet and catering to project cargo growth. However, rising construction costs across the shipbuilding industry pose a challenge for new heavy-lifter builds.

“The focus is on optimising designs to maximise cargo space while ensuring structural integrity and stability,” said Jost Bergmann, Business Director MPV & General Cargo Ships at DNV. “But there are natural limitations to how big these cargo holds can get – not everything engineering can achieve is commercially feasible.”

Minimising port time is another key optimisation strategy, with DNV recommending longer cargo holds and hatch covers specifically designed for project cargo. Additionally, some innovative designs combine elements of deck carriers with traditional heavy-lifters, maximising free deck space for loading flexibility.

Deck carriers themselves offer a cost-effective option for project cargo too large or heavy for traditional heavy-lift vessels. Their simple design allows for lower construction costs, making them a valuable addition to a heavy-lift operator’s fleet.

“Maintaining a versatile fleet is crucial in this business, as many projects involve a mix of large and small cargo items,” Bergmann said in his multipurpose vessel (MPV) sector insight. “A varied fleet allows operators to optimise vessel selection for specific projects and maximize utilisation.”

The wind industry’s relentless pursuit of larger, more powerful turbines is a major driver for heavy-lift innovation, particularly in crane capacity. However, a key challenge lies in balancing long-term demand with the high cost of building ever-larger ships with even greater capabilities.

“Owners are hesitant to invest in these massive vessels without long-term cargo commitments,” said Bergmann. Current newbuilds prioritise taller cranes with capacities between 500 and 800 tons, offering a balance between efficiency and cost. Modern, electrically operated cranes significantly reduce energy consumption while offering greater flexibility for project cargo needs.

While currently exempt from some stricter IMO regulations, heavy-lifters still face pressure to reduce emissions. Options include hybrid propulsion systems, alternative fuels like methanol, and designing vessels for future retrofitting capabilities.

Efficiency, sustainability, and economic viability remain the core concerns for all ship types, and the heavy-lift segment is no exception. As the industry embraces innovation and sustainability solutions, the future looks bright for heavy-lift vessels, with renewables playing a key role in their continued growth.

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Author: Adnan Bajic

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