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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 16:49 GMT
In the ocean fast lane
Pentamaran, ADX Express
The vessel will be 280 metres in length
Global companies have long been looking for bigger and better planes to fly their products around the world, but with the air industry in crisis, the answer to improved freight transport could lie on the water.

Work is currently in progress on a new jet-powered ship that aims to cross the Atlantic in just three days, half the current journey time for cargo vessels.

It is being developed by a British designer, Nigel Gee, and a consortium, ADX Express, backed by companies including Rolls-Royce.

Mr Gee told the BBC World Service's Science In Action programme that his new vessel design would likely show its first keel next year.

Sleek lines

With a length of 280 metres (920 feet) - roughly the same as three jumbo jets - Mr Gee's ship will be immense, although not quite as long as some of the biggest container ships already on the water.

It will have a cargo capacity of 8,000 tonnes - again, not as big as the giants that currently circle the globe. But it is on speed that the Gee ship will set new markers.

It will average about 38 knots (70 kilometres per hour), substantially shortening current journey times.

The secret lies in the Pentamaran design, with its super-sleek look and stabilising outriggers, or outsponsors as Mr Gee likes to call them.

Pushing the wave

"Fat" ships push out a big wave, known as the captive wave, making it difficult for them to achieve higher speeds.

A jet plane creates the same effect, but has enough power to force its way through the wave. In water, as the vessel moves faster, the captive wave just gets bigger.

This in turn leads to loss of speed and efficiency and in bad weather the effects are even worse.

Nigel Gee told Science In Action how his Pentamaran design got around these problems.

"What we have designed is a ship that is longer and thinner than any other ship has been before," he explained. "It tends to pierce through the waves rather than responding to them, and so is able to maintain its speed."

Future plans

The big container ships that carry most of the world's long-haul manufactured exports travel at about 25 knots at best, and barely 17 knots in bad weather.

Even when operating in bad conditions, Mr Gee's Pentamaran should only lose a couple of knots from its top speed of 41 knots.

Around two-thirds of the world's freight still travels by sea. Increasing the speed of the container ships could therefore have a big impact on the business.

Whilst the maiden voyage of the Pentamaran freight ship is still a couple of years away, the potential for passenger transport is already being explored. This could include both a passenger liner and a roll-on roll-off ferry.

Competitors include FastShip Atlantic and Kvaerner, which both have super-fast ships in development, although using different designs.

See also:

22 Nov 01 | Business
Round-up: Aviation in crisis
25 Oct 01 | Americas
Americans take comfort in trains
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