Thinking out-of-the-box is one of the major requirements for developing new engineering pathways. Selandia, the first motor ship in the world which was launched in the year 1912.
In the present times, utilization of diesel in motor vehicles and ships is a routine affair and of exceptional importance. However the development of diesel as a viable ship fuel at the start of the 20th century was a very noteworthy and mentionable event in the maritime domain.
The name diesel comes from the man who pioneered the innovation of the fuel – Dr. Rudolph Diesel in the year 1903. Post this innovation, in the following years, there were many shipbuilding companies that had started to design ships incorporating diesel as a propelling fuel.
But Selandia was unique when compared to the other ships in that that the ship was completely and fully diesel powered instead of the fuel being an ancillary propellant. This factor alone contributed to the vessel being anointed with the title of the first motor ship when it was launched in the year 1912.
The Selandia was built to carry both voyagers as well as cargo. Unlike her other peers, the vessel was constructed without the conventional funnel and the exhaust fumes were ventilated through an opening in the main mast of the vessel. For a ship of that era, the passenger ship was extremely grand and catered to the crème de la crème of the oceanic voyagers.
Owned by the East Asiatic Company, the vessel was built in the Danish Burmesiter and Wain shipbuilding yard in the year 1911. It is said that after the notable success of the vessel, the shipbuilding company was inundated with offers to construct ships with similar propelling capabilities.
• The Selandia measured 370 feet lengthwise and 53 feet width wise with a DWT of almost 7,000 tonnes
• Equipped with two engines, each with eight piston chambers (cylinders), the vessel offered a power of 1,250 horsepower (HP)
• The speed offered was 11 knots with an international operational ambit extending from European to South Asian oceanic waters.
Considering that when the East Asiatic Company opted to take up diesel as the primary fuelling propellant, diesel was still an untested fuel at large, the operator and the constructor entered into a mutual contract agreement. As per its terms, in case of any problems because of incorporation of diesel engines, Burmesiter and Wain would replace the same with the then-applicable steam engine sets. The cost incurred to replace the existing engines would be borne equally by the East Asiatic Company and Burmesiter and Wain.
While categorising the completion of a century of the motor ship’s existence, it needs to be noted that the original Selandia sunk into the Japanese waters in the year 1942. At the time of its accident, the ship was operating under the re-christened name of Tormator (changed in the year 1940).
The company, which itself underwent a few name changes, has a tradition of naming its vessels after the Selandia. Presently, the East Asiatic Company conducts its operations re-christened as EMS and continuing its age-old tradition, still operates a vessel under the name Selandia as a hallmark of the legacy left by the first motor ship in the world.