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Lift on lift off

Lift on, lift off

There is still much work for the unspecialised general cargo ship which is very much the descendants of the cargo liners and tramps of the steam age.  They are often referred to as ‘lift on, lift off’ or just lo-lo, to distinguish them from roll-on, roll-off, or ro-ro ships.

Carrying almost anything

General cargo ships owe their survival to being able to carry almost any type of cargo, from sugar in bulk to steelwork, from sacks of fertilizer to military vehicles.  With a modest size for an ocean-going ship, they can fit into a wide variety of smaller ports around the world.  They have their own cargo gear, so can load and discharge even when facilities in a port are minimal.  This gear is a distinctive feature which usually identifies a general cargo vessel, and includes cranes or derricks serving each of its holds.

Economy not speed

The general cargo ship’s machinery is usually chosen for economy and reliability rather than speed, and a modest 14-knots is all that they can manage.  Indeed, much of the equipment fitted will be proven and dependable rather than state-of-the-art.  The general cargo ship is designed to trade economically, and this means that it must be operated by the smallest crew compatible with safe navigation, and that repairs can be carried out without a great deal of specialist knowledge.

One of the best known general cargo ships is the British-designed SD14, of which a number still remain in service, mainly in the far east.  It was designed to be reliable, economical in operation and – most important – affordable, so the basic specification was kept simple.  The SD14’s cargo space is divided into five holds, four forward and one aft of the superstructure, each separated by a bulkhead.  The holds are further divided by intermediate decks, called ‘tween decks.  This ‘tween deck gives an extra floor for stowing cargo, and itself has a hatch for access to the lower part of the hold