The lack of a deepwater port can be a terrible handicap when a country wishes to engage in world trade and the local facilities are grossly inadequate for modern deep draught shipping. Port development can be hugely expensive and because of topography or the weather in the vicinity, impractical. So how might development take place? The use of a floating port offshore and in deep enough waters for large ships to lie comfortably, is always a possibility. Very large tankers have used Single Buoy Moorings to lie safely in deep water while loading or discharging, for many years. Off the coast of New Zealand a mooring buoy has even been used for the pumping of ironsand slurry into a specialised ship for export to Japan. Other than that, the alternatives seem to revolve around the use of barges to move the cargo in small consignments to a ship anchored offshore, a process that has tended to be slow and weather dependent. Converted bulk carriers have been used offshore to act as transhipment vessels to smaller craft, but a new and innovative project designed by Australian naval architects has been attracting attention.
This project is designed for an iron ore export project where the mine is close to the coast but a long distance from any suitable port. Sea Transport Corporation, which has experience of designing specialist craft for the export of certain difficult bulk cargoes, has proposed its Floating Harbour Transhipper (FHT) as a viable alternative to enable the cargo to get to sea without long land transport links, or the construction of deep water facilities. The FHT is fundamentally a floating port and stockpile moored off the coast in deep water, the cargo sheltered by a roof and to which a large bulk carrier can tie up alongside. The stern of the FHT comprises a mooring dock and small, self-propelled feeder vessels will shuttle the cargo from the small port on the coast, docking for discharge under the roof of the large FHT, which rotates around its mooring cable and keeps its entrance dock away from the weather.
The cargo from the feeders is either loaded by conveyor system straight into the waiting bulk carrier, or when no vessel is alongside, unloaded from the feeders into the on board stockpile to await the next ship. With the cargo covered at all times, this will be a dust-free operation and environmentally sound. Moreover, the safe operation of the transhipment in wave heights of up to 4 metres has been satisfactorily tank tested. It has also suggested that the principle could also be used for a range of other types of cargo, such as containers, where no deep water port facilities are available.