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Wind-Assisted Commercial Ships

Volume 414: debated on Monday 27 October 1980

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2.45 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any plans regarding the development of sail driven ships for commercial uses.

No, my Lords. Her Majesty's Government have concluded from several reviews that the considerable expenditure involved in the necessary research, development and design of wind-assisted commercial ships is not justified at the present time. Should a commercial organisation decide to undertake the design and construction of a sailing ship of novel design, it could apply to the Department of Industry for support for the research and development aspects of the project.

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that our main maritime trading competitors, such as Japan, are giving serious consideration to the development of these ships as an alternative means of saving fuel? Further, as we are an island where large tankers and so forth come into deep water ports such as Milford Haven, could not the Government give serious consideration to the financial feasibility of developing smaller container ships and tankers for transportation of commodities from these large deep water ports to other destinations in the United Kingdom and the Continent of Europe?

My Lords, it is quite true that other countries are examining the question, as we have done, but, apart from a Japanese case, no owner or operator has been prepared to place an order for a wind-assisted ship. In Japan a shipping company has fitted a small tanker of 1,600 tons with unconventional sails controlled by a computer. It is estimated that a 10 per cent. fuel saving will be achieved. This has yet to be proved in practice, as has the efficient and effective operation of the sails. If I may go further, I would add that if there were such a ship then no doubt this method would be a great help in bringing such a ship into port, but as yet there has not been enough experimental work done in this matter.

My Lords, has the noble Viscount seen the papers as issued as pre-prints for the symposium on wind propulsion of commercial sailing ships which is taking place under the auspices of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects next month? Is he aware that on first sight it appears that the conventional sailing ship is never likely to return as a cargo carrier because her manning would be too costly; but that there is a considerable chance that by automation and with the aid of computers a sailing ship without a crew, or with a very small crew, might indeed be viable?

Yes, my Lords, there is to be a three-day symposium on sail and wind-assisted commercial ships to be opened by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh in the early part of next month. It has been arranged by the Royal Institution of Naval Architects from the 4th to the 6th November and a wide range of papers will be presented. This will no doubt cause a flurry of interest in the press. It represents a serious attempt to examine a wide range of topics relevant to the use of wind assistance in the light of current technology. Your Lordships will see from the programme, however, that most of the papers are academic studies and that they are not presented by owners or operators.

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that a sailing ship without a crew is my idea of ideal sailing in the North Sea in rough weather?