Fal River 'cold' lay-up berths almost empty despite shipping downturn
The River Fal lay-up facility, once seen to be a reliable barometer of world shipping trade, is almost empty again despite a high number of ships in lay-up around the world.
Only the large ferry Norman Trader remains off Tolverne with the Windsor Castle, the former Northern Lights lighthouse tender.
Gone are the days when 20 ships would lay-up in the river.
Truro harbourmaster, Captain Mark Killingback, said: “I have numerous enquiries for lay-up berths. There are two 300-metre ships, one a container vessel wanting to lay-up, but as we all know the Fal cannot accommodate this size of vessel. There is a possibility that in July, when the fruit season is over, we may see refrigerated cargo ships returning to the Fal.’ One of the busiest periods on the Fal during the past 15 years came in 1999/2000 when Carrick District Council earned £85,000 in revenue from laid-up shipping. But in today’s volatile shipping world income from laid-up shipping is unpredictable.
Times have changed, as have ships. Nowadays modern ships with sophisticated electronic systems require berths with easy access to shore facilities and technicians. A major problem facing shipowners who own a lay-up ship is whether to opt for a hot lay-up or cold lay-up.
A hot lay-up is where seamen employed by the company are working on the vessel with some working machinery and the prospect of quicker and less expensive activation.
The cold lay-up is when a ship is totally shut down with just a few crew members or watchmen onboard looking after the security of the vessel. These ships take longer to re-activate. With modern electronics and computerised navigation systems installed on ships, owners face huge bills to have their vessels properly mothballed to protect sensitive electronic equipment.
Many owners are opting for hot lay-ups as they watch the markets daily ever hopeful of securing a charter or a cargo.
The last of four refrigerated cargo ships classed as conventional old tonnage, laid-up in the river since last year left the Fal a week ago to enter service running fruit cargoes.
The specialist reefer companies normally rely on bumper cargoes of fruit shipped from the southern hemisphere in the first quarter of any year.
Drewry Maritime Research said: “Seaborne perishable reefer trade has grown to total 90.9 million tonnes in 2011. In terms of tonnage, the highest growth has been in the meat category which grew from 21.4 million tonnes in 2001 to 35.9 million tonnes in 2011.
“The worldwide trade of bananas/plantains has grown from 13.2 million tonnes in 2001 to 15.7 million tonnes. Following three successive years of declining volume, the banana trade increased by almost ten per cent in 2011.”
Quite high volumes of fruit, meat and other perishable goods are being carried now by large container ships rather than by traditional reeferships.
Encroachment by the big container companies into this somewhat fragile market has further damaged the situation. Tumbling freight rates, high fuel costs, coupled with some poor harvests around the world, has seen reefership operators laying-up and scrapping surplus tonnage.