Tue May 24th, 2011 at 03:08:13 PM EST
I don't want to look out my window today. If I did, I'd see through the haze that the harbor's filled with ships including a most unusual pair from the Netherlands. Well one's flagged in Curacao, I'm not sure if that still counts as being Dutch.
Biggest, fastest, most unusual cargo, I like to know all about these types of ships. They fascinate me in part because of their sheer audacity. You can haul a city's worth of cars, a mountain top of coal or a whole day's worth of oil (if you're Portugal), all in one ship! That there are 1.43 billion tons of shipping capacity available everyday in the dry bulk market alone is truly staggering! But then there are other ships that I'd rather not know much about at all. One of them is half of this Dutch duo out there in the anchorage today.
The Blue Marlin is an ungainly beast. Big enough to carry everything from a destroyed destroyer to oil platforms, she travels the world in search of the big and unusual.
You would think then that she came to right spot. You know us New Yorkers, we'll be the first to admit that we're not just the biggest and the baddest but the most unusual too. But this is just a front, we don't make anything big here and we never really did. We're traders, like always, ever since the days of New Amsterdam. If the Marlin is searching for big or unusual freight, I can't imagine a less likely place to look.
At 24 kg per capita, they like to eat meat in Kuwait. They're almost up there with Australia (34 kg), the US (37 kg) and Canada (29 kg) but well behind the Argentinians (54 kg). The difference between little, tiny Kuwait and these other countries is not just size: Kuwait doesn't grow their own, producing a mere 5% of their total meat demand. Aside from the Saudis who boast the world's largest dairy farm, there are not a whole lot of cows growing out there in the desert.
This is where the Shorthorn Express comes in. She has five decks with a maximum loading area of 3,841 square meters. No automated or mechanical loading equipment is needed, the cargo or more correctly, the property is movable, it walks on and off the ship. She is a livestock carrier.
The Dutch shipping company Vroon has been in the overseas livestock transport business for some 50 years. The size and the speed of their ships has grown considerably over the last 20 years. Their oldest ships, conversions mostly from car carriers, can only hit 10-11 knots and have less than 2,000 square meters of loading space. With 1.15 square meters needed per cow, that's, well, not a lot of cows. The Shorthorn can carry twice as many cows per trip and with a 50% increase in speed. When you've got 10,000 nautical miles to go to get to the Gulf with more cows waiting, speed and size are essential. The next generation will be bigger and, thanks to a new bow form, some 10% faster.
It takes up to a year to prepare a shipment of livestock. The animals have to gathered from far and wide and then sent through various inspections and quarantines before they too can walk onto that ship. The water, the grass, specially grown in places like southern Ontario, also must be driven to the port when the time is right. Care must be given when loading the animals, you don't want the ramp to be too steep for example. Stress is not the property owner's friend, it increases premature mortality and decreases quality. This then is a special type of logistics.
Livestock barges used to be just another freight vessel in New York harbor. Every day they'd carry animals from the rail head in New Jersey to the slaughterhouses in Manhattan. Like the iron horses and wooden stock cars that brought them to the Jersey waterfront, much less the animals themselves, these barges are long, long gone. The cobblestone streets that were once lined with abattoirs, now feature the fashionable shops of the edgy sounding Meat Packing district. The few live animals that are brought into the city's markets now come by truck. All else that occurred here seems to be forgotten.
Philadelphia, that gritty city 150 km down the turnpike from here, that city of brotherly love, is now the livestock shipping leader of the east. The Shorthorn is a regular visitor to Philly having been there already once this year. Over her career, she's surely carried many tens if not hundreds of thousands of square meters of cargo some thousands of nautical miles from the docks on Delaware Avenue. Perhaps she's on her way there again, stopping in for a quick visit with her Dutch mate just across the upper bay. Or perhaps the port of New York is back in this trade. As of now, I don't know.
I've always liked Philly. As a child my father would take me and my brother there just to ride the streetcars. It was and is an anachronism, a city so bad it's good. But not always. The same holds true for knowledge. That I know all about this ship, its cargo, its life on board and off is troubling to me. I feel somehow complicit. Outside the haze is starting to lift, it's becoming clearer, but I still can't stand to look. I might just see how much I know.