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WHATEVER results the year 1904 may show in many individual cases, it cannot assuredly be regarded as a satisfactory or remunerative one to the shipowner. Freights, taken all round, have been poor, and in some instances have touched a record in that respect. There are, however, redeeming features ; and it must always be borne in mind that the increase in the average size of vessels and economy in working them, actually reduces the limit of freight for which it pays to run. Thus we see in many trades, boats running, and perhaps paying, at least as much profit per voyage (though on a heavier cargo and freight) as they paid in the same trade, say a quarter of a century ago; although now they may be making only half the rate of freight then current, or even less. This is a natural reduction consequent on new methods.
Hopeful signs also are shown by the great and rather unexpected spurt in shipbuilding orders which set in at the end of 1904. It shows that owners have faith in the future ; for whatever may be said about overbuilding, the shipowners themselves must surely be amongst the best judges of their requirements. Such building as is going on, or booked, is only to a very small extent speculative on behalf of builders. Some owners, indeed, have given speculative orders, but they are not likely to have done so with. out some ground for it ; whilst the bulk of the new tonnage is for definite purposes.
FREIGHTS. In the passenger trade the great question of the year was the rate war in the North Atlantic, ended as we go to press. All the companies concerned lost money, and, instead of the reduction in rates bringing up the number of passengers, there was a decrease of something like 150,000 steerage passengers carried to the United States. On the other hand, the steerage passengers from the United States to this side, on which route there was no reduction, show an increase of something like 50 per cent.
The Sailing Shipowners have succeeded (at the end of the year) in establishing an International Conference, and have commenced their operations by raising homeward rates for nitrate to 238. 9d. How this will affect the future as between British unsubsidised vessels and French subsidised ones remains to be seen.
The year has been remarkable in the outward freight market for the extraordinary coal shipments from South Wales to--or rather for—the Far East, on behalf both of Russia and Japan. A large proportion of it was shipped in German bottoms; and so far as public records inform us, there was no such generous advance in rates of freight as the circumstances would warrant. On the contrary, though towards the end of the year these shipments, already heavy, became enormous on account of the needs of the Russian Baltic feet, as well as of the far Eastern ports, rates for the latter were actually lower by a couple of shillings per ton than they were at the commencement of the war ; whilst those nominally for Las Palmas, Teneriffe, and other places—but really to
call there for orders, or perhaps even to proceed elsewhere under secret orders—did not show (again we say, so far a public records go) anything approaching to an adequate remuneration for the shipowners, or for the collieries. Other coal freights were very poor all through ; the Baltic was based for months on 3s. 6d. Tyne to Cronstadt; the Mediterranean was little better. Perhaps the Plateformed one of the best rounds; but it was spoilt for homeward trade by labour troubles, long since happily over, but which lasted for months. The London coasting trade, long at 3s. from the North-East ports, showed a slight improvement towards the end of the year.
Homewards, Azov, Black Sea, and Danube, have been fluctuating, but never more than moderate ; and about the same may be said of ore freights. The East, namely, Bombay, Karachi, Calcutta, and the rice ports, have been the best feature, together with the Plate during a part of the year, and nitrate. The good rate of 28s. yd. on rice has latterly been freely paid from Java. This comes to solid money. American freights were scarce, owing to the bad harvests, but some fair rates were made for timber from the Gulf ; and a good many boats found it profitable to run on the round of coal out to the West Coast of South America, and nitrate back.
On the whole, the last quarter of the year seems to have been about the best, there being apparent signs of improvement in most directions. Forward engagements for the Baltic for shipments over 1905 have been made on better terms than at the corresponding. period of 1903-4 ; whilst there are many coal contracts treating or concluded on fairly satisfactory terms, further stiffened by Continental troubles.
INSURANCE, In the underwriting world the most salient feature of 1904 has been, of course, the war premiums. For 1903 the full results of transactions are not yet known, but it is stated that if losses only of £40,000 and upwards are reckoned, they amount to over £1,500,000 -a heavy blow for underwriters, who in defence are concerting measures for increasing their scales of rates. And on January 1, 1905, an advanced list of Eastern rates was agreed to, which is 20 to 30 per cent. above the scale of 1904. But, per contra, time rates have been reduced ; whilst the panic which set in after the fall of Port Arthur, with the wild Auctuations of rates, and the final impossibility of covering war risks on coal cargoes for Vladivostok at all, conclude the year, or rather begin 1905, with a general position very precarious for owners as well as underwriters. Nor does the doubtful state of what is called by a euphemism international law, (when blockade and contraband conditions come to apply) tend to mitigate that position. Further, whilst at first the greater part of the boats bound for Vladivostok were insured elsewhere than in London, this has not been the case with later departures. A large number of boats now on passage (we write in January, 1905) are covered there, whilst cargoes of foodstuffs and other matters more valuable than coal, are also on passage to the Russian port. For underwriters, therefore, the year's opening is an anxious time.
SHIPBUILDING. Those who persist in stating that British shipbuilding is declining in proportion to that of the rest of the world will scarcely find support in the actual authenticated facts. In the year 1904 the United Kingdom turned out 1,405,633 tons, and the rest of the world, foreign and colonial, only 1,075,869, or 329,764 tons less ; and whilst our output is only 2 per cent. less than last year, the foreign and colonial output is 15:3 per cent. less. In other words, our excess of output in comparison with that of all the rest of the world (and this includes a large tonnage of river and lake steamers) has fully doubled. This fact shows that Great Britain not only holds her own as the great producer of tonnage, but has greatly improved her leading position. We are not only leading, but increasing our lead.
The position of our shipbuilding yards measured by the amount of tonage in course of construction, has improved steadily during the year. Lloyd's Register Returns show that, at the opening of the year under review, 898,478 tons, irrespective of warships, were being built. The returns for the March quarter indicated an increase of 90,000 tons in the work in hand ; the Junc and September figures were better still, and at the present time the work in progress (viz., 1,049,860 tons) is more by 151,000 tons (or nearly 17 per cent.) than it was twelve months ago.
No vessel of sufficient size to make her pre-eminently noticeable has been launched, nor has a steamer of exceptional speed been built. The German liner Kronpriz Wilhelm broke her own and all other records for speed in Transatlantic passages, but the advance was only slight, and did not change the nationality of the record holder. On the other hand, it can be said to England's credit that the cost of steamship building has been reduced to a figure never before attained, and thus our position as the cheapest shipbuilders in the world has been further strengthened.
THE TURBINE'S TRIUMPH. Steam turbines have again, as in 1903, taken a prominent place in the thoughts of shipbuilders ; in fact, it may be said of the past year that it celebrated the coming of age of the marine steam turbine. Mr. Parsons' invention has not come into prominence with the suddenness with which some scientific advances leap up ; but when compared with the slow growth of the steam engine the ture bine's life is a precocious one ; and when the new Cunarders are finished they will represent an advance on present conditions equivalent to the last forty years of improvement in shipbuilding. But to return to the past year : A distinct step forward in the application of turbines to marine propulsion has been made. During 1903 a number of boats fitted with the new type of engine were built and worked, but they were none of them of any great size ; in 1904, however, there have been launched the two large liners which Messrs. Allan Bros, have had built for the Canadian mail service. They will not be fast when compared with the steamers which ply between Europe and New York, but they will be the first turbine steamers put in regular service in the Transatlantic trade.
The trials of the third-class cruiser Amethyst have played a prominent part in establishing the turbine as a reliable and economical marine motor. The Amethyst is similar to her three sister ships, Sapphire, Diamond, and Topaze, with the exception that these three are propelled with reciprocating engines, whilst the first has turbine machinery. The Amethyst and Topaze underwent a similar series of trials, so that the two types of engines could be compared as to efficiency and general behaviour ; and it was proved that when working near full power the turbine is more economical than the high-speed type of modern marine engine by about 30 per cent.
Thus it will be seen that the steam turbine has fully vindicated the contention of its supporters, that it is the most economical motor for marine propulsion when judiciously installed. And if yet further evidence were needed to convince the sceptical that the steam turbine has become a very serious rival of the reciprocating engine, it is to be found in the fact that all the firms who have tendered for the latest orders from the Admiralty, for 33-knot destroyers, have included turbines in their specifications, and state that they cannot get the necessary 18,000 i.h.p. without recourse to this type of machinery.
INTERNAL COMBUSTION MOTORS. As yet it cannot be said that the internal combustion engine takes any great part in marine propulsion. Its field is so far restricted to small pleasure craft, canal tugs, and submarine boats ; but that there is a great future before both the oil and gas engines for land and marine use there is not the least doubt. The largest marine oil engines constructed so far are those installed by Messrs. Vickers, Sons & Maxim in the new B type of submarine.
BOILERS AND ENGINES. Year after year the return-tube boiler is described as antiquated, and at its last gasp; but yet it lives on, and has even found a place in the new Cunarders, in which nothing but “Scotch” boilers are to be installed. But the water-tube boiler is surely and steadily making its way, and has so far succeeded that at least four-fifth's of the boiler power in the most modern British battleships is of the water-tube type, and many foreign warships are entirely dependent on this class of steam-raiser.
The Boiler Commission appointed by the Admiralty to inquire into the working of the different types of well-known water-tube boilers has, during the past year, issued its report; and it has satisfied the general public that the installation of water-tube boilers in the ships of the Royal Navy is not a mistake. And so the watertube boiler, after a long struggle, has succeeded in getting recognised as a steam raiser of sufficient reliability for adoption by the Admiralty. Its general introduction in the Merchant Marine, however, is more doubtful ; and, except in cases where it is essential to reduce weight to a minimum, there will be some difficulty in ousting the old cylindrical or “Scotch” boiler.
Very little change or advance has taken place in marine engineering (excluding turbines) for some time past. The reciprocating marine engine is so ncarly perfect that it is unlikely that its character will ever change materially. The use of superheated
steam, which came into considerable prominence about a year ago, has not made any great advance since, and does not appear to be looked on with much favour by either engineers or shipowners. Superheated steam has great theoretical advantages, but its adoption is of practical difficulty ; and often the increase in upkeep charges negatives any saving in fuel which may be effected.
The engineering of the new Admiralty scouts is causing some interesting discussion amongst marine engineers on account of the freedom allowed by the Government to the designers of these vessels. The scouts are twin-screw vessels of small dimensions, but have engines of 16,000 i.h.p.; and the different builders are pursuing widely different methods of securing this great power from engines of small dimensions. Messrs. Hawthorn, Leslie & Co are installing the engines in the Elswick scout, and have arranged to fit two triple expansion engines of the destroyer type on each shaft, making four engines in all ; whilst Messrs. Vickers, Sons & Maxim are adopting an entirely different design, providing for two engines of a heavier type, more like those fitted in battleships. The comparative trials of these vessels will be looked forward to with great interest by marine engineers.
LIQUID FUEL. In respect of the value and use of oil fuel, no great innovation has taken place during the year, but some important information has been secured and the position of this fuel more thoroughly established and recognised. In America, under the auspices of the Navy Department of the United States, a very extensive series of experiments was conducted with the object of determining the value of liquid fuel, and the report of the committee entrusted with this work has been published. The most striking part of the report was that which told that the production of petroleum throughout the world is only 1 per cent of the output of coal, and that only a small proportion of this quantity is suitable as fuel for burning under boilers. If present conditions continue, therefore, there is little likelihood of oil supplanting coal as a marine fuel. At the same time it has been proved that where oil is plentiful it makes an ideal fuel. In England, too, some experiments have been made with liquid fuel on a torpedo boat, but have not yet proceeded very far. Some of the latest British warships are having their double bottoms arranged to carry oil fuel, in addition to the coal carried in the bunkers.
WIRELESS TELEGRAPHY, An immense advance has been made during 1904 in communication by wireless telegraphy. The Cunard Company have fitted Marconi instruments on many of their vessels, and it is now possible to communicate with the land during the whole of the Atlantic voyage. The White Star and Allan Lines have also decided to fit the apparatus on their vessels, so that in a short time practically all the Atlantic liners of the first-class mail and passenger companies will be equipped with wireless telegraphy apparatus. And from January 1, this year (1905), messages to ships at sea will be sent by the Post Office for 6d. a word, with a minimum charge of 6s. 6d. per message.