The Big Maritime Things In 2012

At the end of 2012 we can look back and see it has been another interesting year in our industry.

Here are ten things, in no particular order of importance, that stand out for me:

1. Planet Solar

There is no doubt that we can get around the world by sail, but what if we were to use the other sustainable technology, photo voltaic solar power? The math for PV is much more difficult than sail. By comparison, sun light has much lower power densities than wind. It is very difficult to fit sufficient PV areas on a ship and still have it move at a reasonable speed. But can it be done? It was proven to be possible with Planet Solar. It certainly was not fast, but extremely low weight and very high efficiencies with regard to drag and propulsion made it work and in 2012 she completed her first PV powered circumnavigation.

2. Vestas Sailrocket 2

On November 24, 2012, the Vesta Sailrocket 2 set an outright sailboat speed record of 65.45 knots. This is a doubling of the outright sailboat speed record since 1977 when it was 31 knots! Remarkably this increase in speed was almost entirely achieved by very careful optimization after 35 years of continuous experimentation.

3. CMA CGM Marco Polo

It is not entirely clear if she is even the largest container vessel today, but she is proof that the growth trend for super large container vessels has not yet stopped. Bigger boats from Maersk are expected next year. Remember these vessels are the longest vessels currently plying the oceans, because ULCC’s like Seawise Giant have been scrapped.

4. Deepsea Challenger

A March 26, 2012 return to the Challenger Deep with a very impressive design. The first since the 1960’s and the first done with private money.

5. Rising Oceans?

The oceans are rising, That is a concern, but, as engineers, we know it is not a disaster. If places like Holland have lived below sea level for centuries we can solve it for the rest of the world too. But nothing provides more focus than images of New York City under water. This may be the moment where we get to make rational decisions about global warming and its impact. But then again, with Governors in the area simply asking for more federal money without a real nationwide or worldwide plan; probably not.


Despite all our technical maritime advances in the last year, Quality, Environmental, Safety, Training and Health continue to occupy center stage, and provide almost endless demand and opportunities for innovative solutions. For quite a number of years M&O has been touting the need for a more integrative solution approach for these issues, but 2012 seems to be the year where the focus has started to shift from developing regulations to developing solutions.

7. Costa Concordia

January 13, 2012. QESTH. Need we say more?

8. Costa Concordia Wreck Removal

This is a big job. A really big job. The job is as big as the original construction cost of the vessel and went from zero to full speed in just days. And it is being done by a maritime community (the salvage community) that never shies away from a big job. Titan etal, we’re all pulling for you, even though we are a little envious we are not working on it with you.

9. AIS

Collisions used to be mysterious events. The ocean does not leave any skid marks. but Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) seem to be changing that. It is really neat to realize that simple VHF technology allows you to clearly see which blip is which ship on the radar. But the 5 December, 2012 Baltic Ace, Corvus J collision also proves that AIS will not prevent collisions. Without proper QESTH we can always count on technology failing us. But the really interesting thing about AIS is that it is public, and now, when we are called in on a collision, the first thing we do is access the vessel AIS tracks on the internet. AIS, by itself, does not provide the answers, but it provides an important starting point. The ocean does not leave skid marks, but AIS and the internet do.

UPDATE: Niek van Sas, our man in Rotterdam, provided this excellent AIS collision track in the Kiel Canal:

10. Wikipedia

When Wikipedia first came on the scene in 2001, it was considered to be an odd idea. How could this possibly work? The maritime community was a bit late on the bandwagon, but today it has become the central first stop for maritime data, as the above links show. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Is it incredibly useful to people who know that all data needs to be examined before it is used. Absolutely!

Remember Wikipedia was, and is, a project that keeps moving only on private donations (M&O contributes a few dollars each year) and without advertising. It has also proven that writing about issues truthfully, without bias and hyperbole, can be achieved. Wikipedia probably is the world’s best bang-for-a-buck public project ever. Only a few million dollars per year has resulted in a database that absolutely dwarfs any prior information databases, and is available to everybody with a connection to the internet. This article was written with Wikipedia in a few hours. Using the internet alone, finding the numbers, dates, pictures and other facts would have taken a few days. How’s that for improvement?