For the first time, the US Navy is using a new breed of sailing ship to deliver military equipment, a move that can potentially reduce fuel costs by 20 percent to 30 percent, or roughly $1,600 a day per ship, according to the ship's owners.
The Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC) has chartered the "kite-assisted", fuel-saving 400-foot MV Beluga to deliver Air Force and Army cargo to from Europe to the US.
The MV Beluga uses a paraglider-shaped, SkySails-System, which supplements its conventional, internal combustion engines. The sail is basically a huge, computer-controlled kite that soars 100 to 300 yards into the air, using the wind to tow the ship at the end of a long tear-proof, synthetic rope.
The SkySails System is operated by the crew from a workstation on the bridge. All the steering and flight path adjustments are done automatically. "Emergency actions" are taken care of with a "push of a button." But the SkySail is only deployed offshore, outside the three-mile zone and traffic separation areas--just in case.
Unlike conventional sails, the kite has no superstructures that can get in the way of loading and unloading dockside, or scrape the bottom side of bridges as it sails under. The kite folds up, and can be stowed in an area the size of a telephone booth, according to developer SkySails of Hamburg, Germany. And, the SkySail can "generate two to three times more power per square meter sail area than conventional sails," according to the company. The environmental benefits have yet to calculated.
Though wind power was not a factor in awarding the contract, the shipping company was likely "able to capitalize on fuel savings to make its offer more competitive," according to MSC. "MSC values innovation that leads to cost savings," said Captain Nick Holman, of Sealift Logistics Command Europe.