On Jan, 21,  the keel for the first of two liquefied natural gas-powered, combination container–Roll-On/Roll-Off (ConRo) ships for Crowley Maritime’s liner services group was laid during a ceremony VT Halter Marine's facility in Pascagoula, Miss. The keel laying ceremony marked the next step in the construction of Crowley’s first Commitment-class ship, which will exclusively serve the U.S.-Puerto Rico trade lane.

The Commitment-class ships are designed to maximize the carriage of 53'x8.5' containers, which offer the most cubic cargo capacity in the trade. The 219.5 m x 32.3 m x 10 m ships will have an approximate deadweight capacity of 26,500 metric tons. Cargo capacity will be approximately 2,400 TEUs, with additional space for nearly 400 vehicles in an enclosed Ro/Ro garage. The main propulsion and auxiliary engines will be fueled by environmentally friendly LNG. 

The vessels will be built at the Pascagoula facility, with deliveries scheduled for mid- and late-2017. 

The Commitment-class, Jones Act ships will replace Crowley’s towed triple-deck barge fleet in the South Atlantic trade, which has served the trade since the early 1970s. These new ships, which will be named El Coquí (ko-kee) and Taíno (tahy-noh), will offer customers fast ocean transit times, while accommodating the company’s diverse equipment selection and cargo handling flexibility. El Coquí and Taíno are scheduled for delivery during the second and fourth quarter 2017 respectively.

The ship design is provided by Wartsila Ship Design in conjunction with Crowley subsidiary Jensen Maritime, a Seattle-based naval architecture and marine engineering firm. 

VT Halter and Crowley entered into a contract for the pair of ships in November 2013 and construction began with the first steel plate cutting in Pascagoula on Oct. 22, 2014. The shipbuilder began to assemble the keel once enough steel pieces had been cut. With the first section set into place, the ship will now begin to take shape as it is built around the keel.

“A longstanding tradition, the keel laying marks the ceremonial beginning of the ship’s construction,” said Crowley’s Todd Busch, senior vice president and general manager, technical services. “The keel forms the backbone of a ship and is the first part of the ship to be constructed. We at Crowley are very excited to begin the construction process for these technically advanced ships.”

“This keel laying is a major milestone event in the construction schedule for the Crowley Commitment-class program,” said Bill Skinner, chief executive officer, VT Halter. “We are pleased that construction is underway for this very significant vessel.” 

Powered by LNG, the Crowley ships will set a new standard for environmentally responsible shipping. LNG is a stable gas that is neither toxic nor corrosive and is lighter than air. It is the cleanest fossil fuel available, netting a 100% reduction in sulphur oxide (SOx) and particulate matter (PM), and a 92% reduction in nitrogen oxide (NOx). LNG also has the ability to significantly reduce carbon dioxide (CO2), a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, as compared with conventional fossil fuels.

Crowley formed an LNG services group in 2014 to bring together the company’s extensive resources to provide LNG vessel design and construction management; transportation; product sales and distribution, and full-scale, project management solutions.