A Bigger Boat

Floating “Iron Ore Mine” Completes Brazil - Oman Journey


Latest generation of super-sized freighters redefines the concept of “we’re gonna need a bigger boat”

[12/31/12] ‘Vale Sohar’ docked at Vale’s deep-water jetty in the Port of Sohar to unload iron ore on its first voyage from Brazil.

The ship, one of the largest bulk carriers in the world with the capacity to transport 400,000 tons of minerals and the length of four football fields, was welcomed to Oman by members of the North Al Batinah community headed by H.E. Sheikh Hilal bin Ali Al Habsi, Wali of Sohar.

The two remaining vessels, ‘Vale Shinas’ and ‘Vale Saham’ are currently in the final stages of construction and are scheduled to be handed over during the first quarter of 2013. The first vessel to arrive to Oman was ‘Vale Liwa’ which unloaded its shipment of iron ore last month and is currently en route to Brazil for reloading.

Due to the very large capacity of these carriers, the shipments create a ‘virtual iron ore mine’ in Oman which ultimately allows Vale to serve its growing network of clients in the Middle East, North Africa and Indian Sub-Continent faster and more efficiently.

I had no real intention of doing a big ships post at first, but this bit of news caught my eye. Well, the name of the ship did; I thought it was something similar to the “valar morghulis” expression from the A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy/sci-fi books by George R.R. Martin that are the basis for HBO’s fantastic but slow moving series A Game of Thrones (fans of that show who have already read the books: can we please poison Jeoffrey already? Please??) But it was instead a bit of shipping news, which turned out to have a bit of sci-fi about it regardless.

You’ve probably heard of a ship size classification called “Panamax”, which is a set of dimensions for the largest ship that can navigate the Panama Canal. Now that Panama is busy building a new and larger third set of locks, there is a larger set of specs called “New Panamax”. And you may have heard of several container carrier ships and ULCC oil tankers that are far larger than them. And there is at least one cruise ship out there with a 150 foot beam (ship width) that is also to big to transit the locks. Well, it turns out that there are a couple of other even larger maximum size specs for ships. The next level up is called “SuezMax” for obvious reasons, and now we have the latest mega-boat specs called “ChinaMax”. And ChinaMax is so damned huge only half a dozen ports in the whole world can handle them. The Vale Sohar is a ChinaMax class vessel. It’s a ship so huge that just one load of ore is enough to impact production prices in that hemisphere.


400,000 DWT is 8,000,000 pounds. That’s enough iron ore to make enough steel to build the Golden Gate bridge more than half a dozen times. The Vale Sohar is part of a huge shipbuilding order put out by Brazilian mining company Vale SA; within the coming year there will be 35 of these ships. Each one is over 1100 feet long - about the size of an aircraft carrier - but with tremendous beam of 213 feet. That’s roughly twice as wide as a typical super large cruise ship. Bloody huge. And they carry so much cargo that, when loaded, the keel is nearly 76 feet under water. That’s not only too deep to use most of the world’s ports, it’s far too deep to even use the English Channel. Unreal. Sci-fi. But they are real, and they’re fantastic. And they cruise along at 15 knots, powered by a 39,000hp two stroke diesel engine. And they make economic sense, lowering the fuel cost per unit ton shipped to about half what other smaller freighters can manage.

Yes, the largest container ships are a good bit longer. And the next generation of container ships will be even longer than that. And none of them come near the mass of the largest ship ever built, the Seawise Giant, a giant daydream of an oil tanker that was too big for any port anywhere, and spent half its life being used as a floating oil tank. That one went to the ship breakers 4 years ago. Lesson learned: get the world to upgrade its ports before building the next class of super ships.

But still ... eight million pounds of cargo. Horry clap.

Posted by Drew458    United States   on 01/08/2013 at 02:51 PM   
  1. I wonder how long it takers to fill the damn thing?

    Posted by Rich K    United States   01/08/2013  at  08:48 PM  
  2. Only a matter of hours actually. It holds 11,750 trucks worth, but feeds from multiple massive conveyors. Not sure, but I bet it can cycle in and out in 2 days or less.

    Posted by Drew458    United States   01/09/2013  at  03:16 AM  
  3. I wonder how long it’ll take Somali pirates to hijack one.

    Posted by irish19    United States   01/10/2013  at  01:15 AM  
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