JOC ARCHIVES

February 5, 2014

Big ship requires big thinking

Construction Corner | Korky Koroluk

Considering the sort of winter we've had in much of Canada so far this season, there was a certain appeal to a pitch that appeared on my computer screen one day recently.

It told of a ship that, if and when it’s built, will always be at sea, sailing in the southern hemisphere in our winter and in northern climes during our summer. It will be so big that no port can accommodate it, meaning it will anchor off-shore. Passengers will be ferried to and from the port in smaller craft, or by air from the airport that the ship will have on its top deck.

At first I thought this was a gigantic spoof. Then I thought it was more likely to be a con job aimed at separating me from my money. After doing some searching online, I eventually concluded that it is a genuine proposal. I think these people are serious.

Korky Koroluk

Construction Corner

Korky Koroluk

The vessel — dubbed Freedom Ship — would be about 1.3 kilometres long, 230 metres wide and stand 25 storeys tall. It would weigh 2.7 million tonnes.

There would be condominium housing for 50,000 residents, accommodation for an extra 30,000 daily visitors and enough hotel rooms for another 10,000 people.

There would be a crew of 20,000.

There is to be a docking facility in the stern, and up on the roof an airport, with a runway long enough for commuter aircraft of the sort that can carry 40 or 50 passengers.

There are also helicopter landing pads, of course.

These features are necessary because — apart from visitors — reprovisioning such a vessel would require a considerable cargo capacity.

There would be schools and a hospital on board, businesses, a shopping centre, an art gallery, an aquarium, parks and a casino.

The ship would be so vast that there would be a rapid-transit system so people can move around easily.

The cost of all this? About US$10 billion.

There is no shipbuilding yard that could handle such a project. Indeed, the website maintained by Freedom Ship International, says that a conventional hull the dimensions of Freedom Ship would simply break apart.

Instead, it says, the ship is “basically a flat-bottomed barge with a conventional highrise built on top.”

The proposal has been around since the 1990s, but never gained much traction. Then, the economic downturn of 2008 ended talk of it — until recently.

Then, when one of its original boosters died, other advocates revived the idea in his memory. The objective right now, says project director Roger Gooch, is to raise $1 billion so construction can start — probably in Florida.

No timeline has been announced.

I really don’t expect that the project will ever get beyond the promotional stage, even though I’d be interested in seeing how the construction problems would be solved.

After all, if you build a 25-storey highrise on a flat-bottomed barge you could end up with a pretty top-heavy vessel, even with the sophisticated stabilizing systems that modern cruise liners have.

The idea of living in a floating city has long held some appeal for people who want to get away from the long arm of government.

The Freedom Ship website seems deliberately vague on the tax status of its residents, for example. Similarly, it is vague on the whole matter of governance.

Owning a home on the ship would be expensive. A preliminary price list suggests that a 450-square-foot apartment with no outside view would cost $212,000, with a $586 monthly maintenance fee.

At the top end with an ocean view would be a $9.14-million 5,100-foot apartment with $14,700 in monthly maintenance.

And that raises another question. Should the ship ever be built, should she ever sail, and should she prove to be unstable in a storm, with 70,000-plus people on board — some of them pretty wealthy — who gets space in the lifeboats?

Korky Koroluk is a regular freelance contributor to the Journal of Commerce. Send comments or questions to editor@journalofcommerce.com.

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