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December 10, 2019 23 mins

In this episode of CarStuff, Ben and Kurt explore the wondrous world of RoRo shipping vessels, and Ben ponders traveling exclusively by sea.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Welcome to Car Stuff, a production of I Heart Radios
How Stuff Works. Welcome to the show, friends and neighbors.
Thank you so much for tuning in. I am one
of your host to date, and people call me Ben
Bowling because that is in fact my name, and people

(00:21):
also call me by my name, which is Kurt Garin.
That's right, Kurt. You and I have had this topic
circling around in our heads for a few weeks now,
and it's something that longtime car Stuff listeners may be
familiar with. We know that cars are sold around the world,
right and in some countries like here in the United States.

(00:43):
We're lucky enough to have car manufacturing facilities here in
our own country, so it's pretty easy to ship a
car from a factory to a consumer here in the States.
But how did these cars get all over the world?
After all, cars exist in every country, but not every

(01:06):
country has its own car company or car manufacturing ability.
So how do they get from point A to point B?
I would say, by C and that is not the
letter C. That is by shipping, Yes, yes, sir. Every year,
millions of cars or shipped from one place to the
next via truck, rail, air, even and as you said

(01:29):
cargo ships, car go ships. Sorry, swinging a miss. That
is the worst pun. I'm going to acknowledge it, but
we're not going to speak of it again today, Kurt,
you and I are focusing on the ships. And I

(01:51):
don't know if I ever told you, but you know
it was. It's been a longstanding, uh goal of mine.
Dare I say a dream to travel via cargo ship? Yeah,
it's a thing you can do. You just have to
You just have to be flexible with your schedule. You
usually need to book several months in advance. But you
can go across the Pacific, you can go across the world,

(02:14):
and you can do round trips. You can do a
one way slow boat to China kind of thing. You
just have to be under like seventy seven. So I
think we've got time, That's what I'm saying. But if
you and I did that, we would They wouldn't put
us to work swab in the deck or anything, but
we would very much just be ancillary passengers. Because cargo

(02:37):
ships are this enormous industry. They move billions of dollars
worth of goods and they ship anything from you know,
like a million beanie babies to just like imagine a
random thing, fidget spinners, it doesn't matter. And every single
day cargo vessels are criss crossing these sans of hours

(03:01):
shipping automobiles, shipping cars, and they're they're specialized vehicles, these
vessels that ship these cars. Some of them can hold
up to what eight thousand vehicles, between four thousand, eight
thousand five vehicles, I believe. Yeah, they're enormous. They're like
giant parking garages. And some of the levels can even

(03:24):
raise and lower in height to accommodate taller and shorter vehicles,
so they're flexible in that way as well. It's very
very cool vehicles. They're just giant parking lots basically, that's yeah,
they're floating parking lots and they look weird. Could see
some fascinating videos of loading and unloading the trucks, which

(03:44):
we can explore a little bit. These ships move cars
and trucks to the US. They go to different ports
on the East and West coast, and then once they
hit the coast here they're unloaded and the cars are
transported either to a dealer or to a individual person

(04:05):
who has purchased a car from abroad or is having
it shipped and then it just gets on a truck
where he gets on a rail and off to the races.
That's right, in fact, just down the road in Brunswick, Georgia.
I believe it's the second busiest port. First would be Baltimore.
Brunswick apparently handles about forty ships a month. I didn't

(04:27):
know that. I wouldn't have even thought that because Brunswick
isn't really um like Baltimore yet sure giant, that makes sense.
I would have thought Savannah. Savannah handles some of the traffic,
but um, but Brunswick gets most of the row row
Oh okay, this is the first time we've used this
term today. What is r row? It's a ship used

(04:47):
to carry cars are actually just vehicles, even semi trucks
or other heavy machinery. And row row stands for roll
on roll off, which is the way that the vehicles
get on the ship, so they're not lifted by a
crane like you're talking about LOLO. There's the road road
and the LOWLO. I feel like a nine year old
saying that, but those are accurate terms. LOLO is where

(05:10):
you use a crane to load and unload cargo. And
a row road is cutting out the middleman of the crane.
You're able to physically move the vehicle on its wheels
into the vessel. Yeah, they just drive them on. What's
weird about this is that we don't really think about
the amazing journey a lot of these vehicles take before

(05:30):
they end up in the dealership or double parked in
front of your favorite grocery store. Car Carrier ships are
these industrial workhorses. Some can haul up to eight thousand
five vehicles, which is the highest number I had found.
And and there was one particular case that really stood
out to me because I think there's a good, uh

(05:52):
specific example that we can look at to get a
snapshot of the industry overall, and that is a boat
called the Andromeda Leader. Pretty cool name for a boat, right, Definitely,
it sounds like a spaceship or something that does, and
it looks kind of like a spaceship. The scale is
just enormous. It's huge. It has a cargo capacity of

(06:13):
twenty one, four hundred and forty three tons. That makes
it bigger than some of the largest cruise ships on Earth.
This one specifically is carried of five thousand, five hundred vehicles,
which is right in that range you described earlier. And
it's built to Panamax standards. Yeah, the ship is a

(06:34):
thirty two meters or one hundred and five ft wide.
Panamax is the dimensions of or it's the requirements to
go through the Panama Canal, and I believe that that
is a round about the largest that could fit through
the Panama can Hour, at least the old standards. They
did update these, I believe in two thousand six. It's

(06:57):
a bit wider. I think a few of the locks
are now a little wider, but still you'd want to
you want to fit through any of them. Check over
Panamax and so for a while, that was a hard
limit on even the biggest ships making that kind of route.
The Andromeda Leader, despite sounding like a spaceship, as a
cargo ship, it moves Toyota, Lexus, Scions and so on

(07:21):
across the Pacific and it gets them to the US.
So here's the thing. Some of us listening may be
familiar with the former football player Joe Montana. The name
is at least from Joe Montana, at least from what
I can remember, was kind of well known for throwing
ugly passes that get the job done. In the Andromeda

(07:45):
Leader and these car carrier ships, they're kind of like
a Joe Montana pass because they look ugly as sin.
Their performance is not you know, they're not gonna win
a beauty contest. The nuts and bolts of the ship
and its propulsion are I guess impressive in the scale,

(08:06):
but not not as impressive as you might think because
this is a transport craft. It is only supposed to
move cars without wrecking them or sinking itself in the process.
And if you see it on the on the water,
it looks goofy because it looks like it's standing too
far out from the water, you know what I mean.

(08:28):
They're very very tall ships. They're like nine or ten
stories tall, and they're just they're giant boxes, so they
look like, I mean, very few windows. Some of them
do carry passengers like you alluded to earlier, but the
ones that are built purely for rolling cargo, they are
just giant boxes purpose built to get from point A

(08:49):
to point B. Yeah, only about fift of the hull
on the Andromeda Leader is actually submerged when it's in
the water, and the captain to tell you a fund
is fine. The captain describes the ship as a quote
floating coconut. It sails at seventeen to nineteen knots and
its journey takes it twenty eight days. It leaves from

(09:12):
a port near Nagoya, Japan, where there's an awesome Toyota museum,
to Jacksonville, Florida, and then these cars are unloaded in Jacksonville.
They're generally meant for the Southeast if they're unloaded there,
and then it goes to Newark where it unloads some stuff.
And then on its return leg as it's as it's

(09:32):
sailing back home, it stops in Puerto Rico to drop
off a few more cars, and then it goes to
Japan empty. And I would assume it travels a little
bit faster without all that weight. So that's an example
of a specific vehicle. But how does the rubber hit
the road here? How how do they get these cars

(09:54):
into these vessels? There's a science to it, arguably all
so an art. We'll answer that after a word from
our sponsor, and we're back. And as you can imagine,

(10:23):
maximizing the number of cars the ship can carry while
minimizing the damage of those cars can be complex, which
is why they switched to a vessel that you can
roll the cars on and off of. Until of the
nineteen sixties, they were generally using cranes to transfer cars
off one or two at a time. The introduction of

(10:44):
car carrier ships changed that. Before that, there were amphibious
vehicles and ships that would transport vehicles to shorelines and
various other places, and ramps would load the vehicles on
and off of land. So rolloffs kind of started long
before they were introduced in kind of like a commercial sense.
So the ramps are also incorporated on the ships of today.

(11:06):
On the large rorow ships, they have a one giant ramp.
It's usually towards the back of the ship, the stern,
I guess that is what they would call that, and
cars are driven on one by one very quickly, though
very efficiently. If you've ever seen this done, it's a
ballet of sorts. Yeah, it's fascinating, especially because it feels
like it's like watching a circus performance or watching those

(11:31):
uh stunts where motorcycle motorcycles drive in sphere you're talking about.
Because I keeping the game of inches, yeah, it seems
I keep expecting something to wreck you know what I mean.
Even the Semis when they load them on, they're driving
them up the ramps that are just wide enough to
fit these vehicles, so there's very little margin of air.

(11:54):
They need about ten centimeters or about four inches of
overhead clearance. UM. So the high determines which deck they're
parked on. Like I said before, some of the decks
can lower and raise. On the Andromeda specifically, the shortest
deck is too short for suv certain SUVs, but like
you said, two of those decks on the Andromeda specifically

(12:17):
can be raised to a pretty big height. It's like
sixteen feet right, and so, and spacing between the cars
is just as critical. They allow for about thirty centimeters
or about a foot that separate the front and rear
bumpers of the car. There's a gap of some six
inches from side to side. If you've ever seen some
of the catastrophes where the cars of either they were

(12:39):
not secured correct or they had come loose during shipment,
as you can imagine complete disaster for everything around them.
So I guess parking them close to each other limits
that damage a little bit. If one car comes loose,
there's not a lot of room for it to travel,
but those types of things are rare, but they do happen.
So that said, the mirrors are folded in to make

(12:59):
for more room to park, and according to a guy
named Bill Barrett, a national logistics manager for Toyota, consistent
spacing is the key here and says, you don't want
scratches on bumpers, you don't want dense scrape ups and
so on, so parking them this closely doesn't do the

(13:19):
job by itself. They also lashed the vehicles down, and
at least in the case of Andromeda, they specifically use
a minimum of four nylon straps that are looped through
these removable hooks at the bumpers or on the frame,
And of course large vehicles need more straps, and those

(13:39):
parked perpendicular to the keel needs more straps, and the
clasp on the other end of the straps are attached
to holes or rings on the floor and these things
are super taught. They want the cars to barely be
able to budge at all, because if evil one comes
loose when they're part that closely, it can kind of

(14:02):
minimize damage to an area. Depend on how rough the
seas are, how bad the bumps are. But on the
other hand, if the boat takes a big enough knock
and there's a loose car, that thing could cran everywhere.
It could be like a ricochet effect. Enough enough cars
get dislodged. Obviously, cargo shifting in a boat like that
it's not a good thing. So if massive amounts of

(14:23):
these things are not secured properly, it could spell disaster
for the ship itself. When you were a kid, did
you ever do those relay things where you have to
like run with an egg and a spoon, but you
can't drop the egg. This is to me, this is
like that if every every moment that you ran with
the spoon was worth millions of dollars, and if you

(14:44):
drop the egg, uh, if you drop the egg, people
could die their lives on the line. And that leads
us to something else that we we wanted to hit
when we talk about the amazing journey that your cars
take a across the world to meet you, and that
is that this kind of endeavor, in this kind of trip,

(15:07):
not only is it complicated, not only is there a
lot on the line, but it can also be dangerous.
We'll tell you why afterward. From our sponsor, and we

(15:30):
are back, Kurt. This is something you and I talked
about a little bit off air, and I think maybe
we alluded to it in the episode already. But there
have been a lot of accidents with roll on and
roll off vessels. I see. It turns out that there
are quite a few row Row vessels that have taken
on water and capsized or actually sank due to one

(15:54):
problem or another. Problems with the loading doors, pretty common
problems with vehicle decks and other things that could happen
to any vessel. Yeah, I would imagine that when one
of these begins to take on water, it fills those
giant cavities fairly quickly, and I guess that's why they're
so disastrous when and if they do have issues where
they start to leak. Probably one of the worst disasters

(16:18):
in terms of human life was the MS Estonia in
nineteen four. And of course some of these are passenger
ships as well, because I would imagine that a lot
of the pure car only our vehicle only row rows
wouldn't have too many people on them. That's true, you
want to minimize the amount of people you need on board.

(16:38):
But yeah, the Estonia was a row row, but it
was it was a faery, so it had a lot
of passengers on it. And in the sinking of the
Estonian eight hundred and fifty two people lost their lives
because she listed different rowroad accidents. Now, not all of

(17:00):
these are huge disasters, but they do continue to happen.
For instance, consider the story of the m V Golden
Bay which capsized on September nine, nineteen, and that's a
that's a car carrier through and through. Here's how things
went down. It was at the port of Brunswick Harbor
after it unbirthed and was heading towards the Port of Baltimore.

(17:22):
It had some serious listing and they immediately closed the port.
The United States Coast Guards sent a rescue mission to
find four of the twenty three crew members that went missing.
They were all eventually rescued. They appeared to be in
okay health and as far as they could guess, the
incident was probably caused by a sudden loss of stability.

(17:44):
Maybe they had stowed the cargoing correctly, or maybe the
water ballast was miscalculated. They were carrying Kia and Hondai
cars that were meant to be delivered in the Middle
East Hondai executive said, well, there was some kind of
internal fire and it couldn't be controlled. Then it capsized,

(18:04):
So people still weren't completely in agreement on what happened.
And can you imagine if we were loading those cars ourselves,
we definitely wouldn't want people to say something was wrong
with the way it was stacked in, you know. And
although there were no lives lost in this accident, obviously
there's an environmental impact to the general or to the

(18:26):
surrounding area where the accident happens, as well as damage
to the cargo. You know, all those all those cars,
and they have a lot of redundant safety measures in place.
It's just that you can't plan for everything, you know
what I mean. And the weird thing is that these
sea going pure car carriers row row car ferries have

(18:47):
a reputation on the seas for being what's called high
risk design. They're considered notoriously tough to keep stable, and
they've actually been referred to before as roll on rollovers. Yeah,
kind of like when Jeep gets a hard time, you know,
And we know that any improperly secured loading door can

(19:09):
cause the ship to start to take on water and
sink that happened in eight seven with the Herald of
Free Enterprise. It can also this is so weird, but
water sloshing on the deck can make something called the
free surface effect, and this makes the ship unstable and
it makes it capsize. Free surface water on a deck

(19:32):
was the likely cause of the nineteen eight capsizing of
the TV Wahin. But you might ask, why would people
do this if it were so risky? Right, the sheer
volume that you can ship in this manner would justify
the risk involved. Really, how else are you going to
get the massive amount of vehicles from Japan to the

(19:55):
United States or from the United States to other countries
around the world. This's just see sames like, it's the
most cost effective and safe estoption, even with the accidents
that can happen. Yeah, and people are still working on
and refining the row row idea. And there are a
couple of different variations of row row that you may

(20:15):
have heard of. One is the l m s R
Large Medium speed roll on roll off, which refers to
some military craft and these are the things that are
purposely built to carry you know, armored vehicles other military cargo.
Then there's the con row. The con row is a

(20:36):
hybrid of the row road and container ship. Conrow ships
are pretty cool because they can carry a you guessed it,
combination of containers along with heavy equipment, oversized cargo, and
cars so well, plenty of cars are shipped in containers
as well. It's a very common way for individuals. The
ship we even talk about that, Yeah, lay it on me.

(20:58):
Usually when you would want to ship a car over
these most people probably think of enlisting the services of
a company that would use just a giant shipping container
to haul the car in and put it on just
your standard container ship. And normally they can get one
or two vehicles depending on the size of the car
into these containers. They build wooden ramps and whatnot to

(21:19):
elevate one car over the other if the size is right. Um,
but it's a fairly fairly safe, tried and true way
to ship a car. It's just a little bit more invasive.
There's a little bit if you're concerned about your vehicle
getting scratched because there's a lot of handling when you're
shipping in a cargo container. It's a lot less if
you're rolling the car on and off the ship a
lot less can happen to the car that way. When

(21:41):
you ship in a container. If they're going to stack
the cars, they would have to go around your car
and build a Basically, it's a wooden structure around your
car to elevate the other car above it. So obviously
things can happen there, but it was a pretty neat
option to explore though. If you're looking to ship your car,
and you can find plenty of people and outfits online

(22:04):
that have pretty good reps that will give you a quote,
I suggest shopping around if you're read reviews. Of course,
always read the reviews, and then if you're able to
see what kind of shipping vessel they're going to use,
let me know. If they've got some extra extra seats.

(22:25):
Maybe this would be the time I can ride along
with your car across the high seas. So this concludes
today's episode, but not our show. Have you ever worked
on a cargo ship? Have you ever shipped a car
across the planet? If so, let us know. You can
find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter where we are

(22:46):
Car Stuff HSW on Facebook and Twitter, and The Car
Stuff Show dot Com is where you can find us
on the worldwide Web. With every single episode that we
have ever ever done. Kurt Scott and I just going back,
oh gosh, going back further than I would like to admit.
As always, folks, thank you so much for tuning in

(23:08):
and we look forward to hearing from you. Tune in
for our next episode. Thanks to everyone. Car Stuff is
a production of I Heeart Radio's How Stuff Works. For
more podcasts from my Heart Radio, visit the i heart
Radio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to your
favorite shows.

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