Marines: China Goes RoRo


August 28, 2012: China recently launched its first passenger ferry designed for military use (when called up for military service). The 36,000 ton Bohai Emerald Bead can carry 2,000 passengers (or troops) and up to 300 vehicles. Three more ships of this design are under construction. This is but the latest class of dual (civilian-military) type RoRo (Roll On, Roll Off) ship built in China.

Three years ago the first RoRo ship designed and built in China (the 14,400 ton "Spirit") entered service. This ship was designed for military use, as it can carry up to 5,000 vehicles (cars and light trucks), or over a thousand armored vehicles. It has nine fixed and three adjustable decks for vehicles. A RoRo ship moves next to a dock and then deploys ramps so that its cargo of vehicles can quickly drive right off. If, for example, China were invading Taiwan, a RoRo ship could move into a recently captured port and unload an armored brigade in a few hours.

The owner of "Spirit" is COSCO (China Ocean Shipping Co.), which operates a fleet of over 700 cargo, tanker, and RoRo ships. COSCO is owned by the Chinese government and its ships are available for use by the military. COSCO is a $20 billion a year business that also owns ship repair facilities and port operations around the world.

COSCO has been scrambling to buy or build more RoRo ships, mainly because Chinese automobile manufacturers are exporting more cars to developing countries (where the cheaper, some going for $5,000, Chinese vehicles are very popular). Seven years ago COSCO had only three small RoRo ships and they had to use Japanese RoRo ships, and pay dearly for that, to move most of its exported cars. Most of the RoRo ships in the world were owned by Japanese shippers. Noting the military usefulness of RoRo ships, COSCO was ordered to build these ships in China, where they could be optimized for military use. Now China is exporting most of its vehicles using Chinese built RoRo ships.


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