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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 7

I The First 100 Years 1788-1888

II Railways

III Motorised Vehicles

IV Aviation

V Modern Shipping
i Shipbuilding Industry
ii Changes in the Shipping Industry Through Improved Technology

VI Innovative Small Craft

VII Conclusion

VIII Acknowledgements

IX Contributors



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Changes in the Shipping Industry Through Improved Technology

The history of Australian coastal shipping has been one of cyclical fortunes. From being at one time the cheapest and most efficient means of transport between the main centres of commerce around the coast of Australia shipping has declined over the years except in bulk cargoes where it has significant economic advantage. Once profitable passengers services have been discontinued because of competing transport methods, initially rail, but in more recent times road and air. General cargo freighters have been superseded by special purpose vessels such as bulk carriers, ore carriers, tankers, but only when the economies of transport by sea are favourable.

Shipping has always been a competitive business and rival shipping lines battled continually to gain advantage by the introduction of new techniques and new technologies. Coastal shipping particularly came under cost pressures due to the competition of alternative forms of transport and, as a result, shipping companies undertook large investments in improved methods covering all aspects of their shipping business in order to maintain financial viability. This included advances in ship design, machinery and control, also cargo handling, both afloat and ashore, together with the backup systems which were required to make rapid cargo handling possible.

Analysis of the major cost components in shipping freight which are the operating costs such as crew wages, repair and maintenance, bunker and port charges, stores, administration etc., and capital costs including servicing charges favours the operation of larger ships. For example, in 1958 the largest bulk carriers in use on the coast were of the order of 12,000 tons, whereas 10 years later they were 55,000 tons and increased size was only dependent upon the capacity of the building berths and repair docks.[6]

The ratio between time in port to time at sea is a vital factor in shipping economies and to achieve competitive freight rates, the Australian shipping companies introduced technically advanced cargo handling methods as an integral part of ship or ship and wharf design. As a measure of improvement a general cargo ship discharging say 4000 tons and loading 4000 tons in the Port of Melbourne in a conventional manner could be expected to be in port for about two weeks using about 200 men per day. The Swanston Dock container facility can perform the same task in eight hours using a total of about fifteen men overall. This is a massive increase in productivity.

In summary, technical advances in shipping have brought about the development of larger, faster more economical ships with reduced crews and requiring capital intensive but faster cargo handling methods. From the Australian transport viewpoint this has meant a sharply reduced shipbuilding industry, fewer coastal ships in operation and a continual fight to remain competitive against alternative forms of transport. The use of general purpose carriers has all but passed and modern ships in increasing numbers will be special purpose built and include very large tankers for carriage of bulk liquids, very large bulk carriers for dry cargoes such as ores and grains, unit load ships for general cargo, RO/RO ferries, container vessels and other special purpose ships to meet a specific freight requirement.

An example of Australian unique shipping design which integrated the type of cargo with the ship and associated material handling systems is the Accolade which carried limestone in bulk across the St. Vincent Gulf. The novel feature of this ship was provision of large bins of circular construction built into the upper deck and designed to match up with the unloading facilities at the cement plant of the Acco Transport at Adelaide. The concept proved highly successful in operation and the vessel was only withdrawn from service essentially due to size and age, after some fifteen years continuous operation.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Acco Transport, Adelaide

People in Bright Sparcs - Campbell, Robert

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 523 - 525, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher