Cargo ships set sail for a greener sea

Old techniques may help reduce pollution and give passengers a cruise with a difference
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An innovative British shipping company is planning to build a fleet of cargo vessels that will use sails to help the environment and attract cruise passengers.

As well as carrying cargo such as fresh produce, and building and fishing materials, each of The Bright Green Shipping Company's sail-assisted ships will also take 12 passengers for what it describes as "Habitat goes to sea"-style cruises. On board during the two-week trips there will be courses in Caribbean cooking, astronomy and navigation.

Initially, the company is building and operating two Green Ships between Canada and the Caribbean which will each have the capacity of 18 articulated lorries, but plans are already afoot to link up with a company called Island Hotels in Australia to run a service between there and the Solomon Islands. The company aims to operate in eight other identified markets within 10 years.

Jeff Allen, 47, is the brain behind the concept of sail- assisted ships, which he claims will not only reduce fuel requirement and therefore polluting emissions but also provide a "regular, faster, cheaper service".

"We have spent a considerable amount of time in Nova Scotia talking to exporters and already have commitments for over 140 per cent of our target cargo capacity," he said.

The cost of transporting one tonne of freight from Maritime Canada to the Caribbean by air is $2,000 (pounds 1,250) and takes three days. The cost by transhipment - by lorry and then boat from Montreal - is $165 and takes 19 days. The company claims that it will transport freight the same distance in nine days for US$100. Furthermore, the Green Ships' use of sail increases stability, thereby allowing year-round operation.

Although he has had a career in shipping, it was Mr Allen's love of ocean yacht racing that gave him inspiration. Conventional shippers have increased the size of their ships in order to drive down prices, but these larger ships are unable to service small island ports. As a result, small island communities have become increasingly isolated.

With streamlined hulls and modern soft-sail technology, the Green Ships are supposed to be more economically efficient and therefore able to service routes which are no longer viable for conventional ships. The ships are in the final design stages and should be up and running this time next year.

Captain Christopher Chamberlen, chairman of The Bright Green Shipping Company and former sailing master of the Royal Yacht, said: "I am a great fan of sail technology, not because it is romantic, although to be aboard a Green Ship under full sail will be an exhilarating experience, but because sail allows for greater efficiencies and so drastically improves the economies of running relatively small vessels."

The company is confident that its cruises will go down well. Cruise holidays generally are popular with Americans with over 40 million of them predicted to go on one in the next five years.

The company is at present negotiating with Atlantic Ambassatours, a large Canadian tour operator, which believes it can sell 65 per cent of passenger occupancy in the first year and 78 per cent thereafter.