Project Cerulean - A Vast Ocean of Possibility to Explore
In 2018 Swire Shipping and the University of the South Pacific launched a new project to research and design a low-carbon wind powered, commercially-operated freighter to stimulate outer-island Pacific trade. Route analysis by the Micronesian Centre for Sustainable Transport (MCST) demonstrated a marginal but viable business case if the vessel could be built within budget. Collaboration with French ship design firm, VPLP resulted in this design for a 40m ship initially targeting the copra trade between RMI, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Fiji. Spiralling costs in all aspects of ship construction following the Covid pandemic and subsequent global logistic chain crisis has seen shipyards with overflowing order books. With build quotes nearing double initial estimates, the business case is no longer viable, and Swire have made the decision not to proceed further at this time.
While the project has not resulted in a new vessel, the research collaboration has provided a much-improved understanding of the challenges facing inter-island transport connectivity under the current conditions. Most importantly, the project has provided an immense amount of information and detailed analysis on deploying Wind-Assisted Ship Propulsion (WASP) vessels, designed for the specific range of operational conditions in Pacific island countries and capable of responding to the needs of remote island communities. MCST’s lead researcher of the Cerulean Project, Andrew Irvin, discusses the research findings and why the research platform gained is so important for the Pacific’s forthcoming transition to low carbon shipping.