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The world’s first spherical bow container ship

The world’s first spherical bow container ship
Natori’s most striking feature is the wind-reducing SSS-bow

Imoto Lines’ latest container ship Natori is described by the company as ‘an experiment in energy saving’

The evolution that has been taking place in container ship design over the past few years has been most apparent in larger vessels of the type. It is the increase in size and the quick adoption by most container lines of the twin island design for all ultra large box ships that has been the biggest change. And 2017 will see yet another step up in size with the arrival of 21,100 teu MOL Triumph.

As tougher environmental regulations are introduced and the need to reduce operating costs continues to grow, vessel efficiency and environmental impact are increasingly important for all shipping companies, whether they are operating the world’s largest box ships or small coastal feeder vessels.

One company that is clearly looking at vessel design as a means of improving efficiency is the leading Japanese coastal feeder operator Imoto Lines. Headquartered in Kobe, the company has operated domestic shipping services in Japan since it was founded in 1973, when it started a service employing deck barges between Maya-futo in Kobe and Tanoura in Moji. Today it has a fleet of 25 feeder vessels ranging from 190 teu to 540 teu operating on services calling at 56 Japanese ports and providing feeder services under the Japanese flag to international carriers. Many of the company’s vessels have been designed specifically to operate on its niche services that call at a number of small Japanese ports.

In December 2013 the company placed an order with Japanese shipbuilder Kyokuyo Shipyard Corp which has its shipyard in Shimonoseki, the most western city on Japan’s main island, Honshu. The shipbuilder was acclaimed in 2010 when it launched City of St Petersburg, the first of two innovative roro vessels featuring its ‘eco-ship’ design. Both featured its patented SSS-bow semi spherical shaped bow. Imoto Lines’ new vessel shares this unique bow design.

Launched in December 2015, Natori was, according to Kyokuyo Shipyard, “the result of a chemical reaction between experience and expertise of the two companies.” Its design was the culmination of a project for energy saving using a large coastal container carrier with a next-generation SSS-bow, which received a government subsidy from Japan’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy – part of a programme to promote energy saving logistics projects.

Natori has an overall length of 136.2m, a width of 21m and a shallow draught of 9.2m, with a capacity of 7,390 grt. It can accommodate 548 teu which includes 100 reefers. It is currently the largest Japanese coastal container vessel and has double the capacity of a conventionally designed container ship with similar tonnage.

Its most striking feature is the wind-reducing SSS-bow, which incorporates the navigation bridge and accommodation and is located at the forward part of the vessel. The SSS-bow design was developed by the shipyard to reduce wind resistance and its performance was tested using a wind tunnel. The tests showed a maximum wind resistance reduction of up to 50 per cent compared with a conventional vessel.

Unlike pure car carriers, the wind pressure area varies on a container ship depending upon the load condition, as the height of the container stacks can have an effect. The tests compared Natori’s design with a conventional container ship of the same capacity and with the bridge and accommodation superstructure located aft and in different load conditions. Each time the results showed that Natori achieves greater energy savings, including a 5 per cent reduction in fuel consumption in all load conditions.

The use of the SSS-bow has a number of other advantages when compared to conventional design. With the bridge located forward of all cargo there are no visibility restrictions, which means that increased container capacity can be achieved by loading an extra tier of containers to a maximum of three tiers on deck – as there are no regulations affecting visibility aft of the bridge. The spherical shaped bow also provides extra protection to any containers loaded on deck in heavy seas, as the sea water is naturally deflected away to the sides. The design integrates the bridge and accommodation into the fore part of the vessel, and the spherical bridge is said to improve visibility.

Crew comfort is improved, too, as all accommodation is separated from the engineroom, reducing both noise and vibration. Although separated, access to the engineroom is vital and is achieved by way of an enclosed passage under the upper deck. The passage is equipped with hydraulic watertight sliding doors and remains unaffected by bad weather or rough seas. An ecdis system, together with cargo and weather monitoring cameras, is installed and is connected to Natori’s own private network which enables the crew to view both navigation and cargo operations from their own cabins.

A single MAN B&W 7S35MC7 unit with an output of 5,180kW at 173 rpm and built under licence in Japan by Hanshin Diesel Works provides main propulsion. This drives a single 4.1m diameter propeller, giving a maximum service speed of 16 knots.

To help ensure that Natori has excellent manoeuvrability when in port, it is fitted with a single 970kW bow thruster and a mariner type Ocean Schilling rudder. This design improves the lift generated by the rudder itself which in turn improves manoeuvrability, especially at low speeds. The rudder can turn to 70 degrees port and starboard.

During cargo operations draught adjustments can be carried out easily thanks to a ballast system supplied by Japan-based Amco Engineering Corp. This system can be controlled over WiFi via a tablet in any part of the accommodation or bridge.

As with most new vessels, a number of eco-friendly features are installed that aim to reduce Natori’s environmental impact. These include an improved underwater hullform, ultra low friction antifouling fuel saving paint, a fuel oil piping system designed to prevent oil spills during bunkering operations, and IMO PSPC (Performance Standard for Protective Coatings) compliant coatings in the ballast tanks.

Natori has already achieved two awards. The first, awarded at the 17th Logistics Environment Awards organised by the Japan Association for Logistics and Transport, was for the development of technology that reduces the environmental impact of logistics operations. According to the organisers, the award recognised Natori’s innovative energy conserving measures, including the SSS-bow and special propeller, as well as the ship’s contribution to efforts to achieve a modal shift of freight from road to sea in Japan.

This was closely followed in July this year by the award for the best small cargo ship at the 2015 Japanese Ship of the Year event hosted by the Japan Society of Naval Architects and Ocean Engineers. Imoto Lines received the same award the year before with its vessel Futaba.

Natori is currently deployed on a service linking the ports of Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, Kitakyushu and Hakata.


Name Natori
Port of registry Kobe
IMO number 9729788
Classification society ClassNK
Operator Imoto Lines
Builder Kyokuyo Shipbuilding & Iron Works Co
Keel laid 09-Jun-15
Launched 26-Aug-15
Delivered 11-Dec-15
Hull number 522
Length oa 136.2m
Breadth 21m
Depth, moulded 9.20m
Draught 6m
Gross tonnage 7,390gt
Deadweight 6,953 dwt
Main engine 1 x MAN B&W 7S35MC7
Bow thruster 1 x 970kW
Container capacity
On deck 358 teu
Underdeck 190 teu
Reefer 100 teu
Total 548 teu
Main suppliers
Hanshin Diesel Works main engine
Nakashima Propeller Co propeller and bow thruster
Daihatsu Diesel diesel driven alternators
Taiyo Electric Co alternators
Miura Co boilers, waste disposal
Tadano ship’s crane
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries mooring equipment
Fujikura Rubber lifesaving equipment
Iwakitec Co  hatch covers
Nabtesco Corp bridge control system
Nippon Hakuyo Electronics fire detection system
Nippon Dry-Chemical Co fire extinguishers
Furuno Electric Co radars
Sanwa Churi Industry Co waste shredder/crusher
Taiko Kikai Industries Co sewage plant
Amco Engineering Corp ballast control system
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