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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Ian Kirkwood

World-first Japanese bulk carrier with giant sail arrives from Japan on Monday to load coal

An artist's impression of the Japanese bulk carrier, Shofu Maru, fitted with a hard fibreglass sail will look on its scheduled arrival in the Port of Newcastle next week. Picture supplied by Mitsui/Shipping Australia

THE world's first modern cargo ship to use sail power to supplement its engines is scheduled to arrive in the Port of Newcastle on Monday morning.

The Shofu Maru was commissioned in Japan earlier this month, fitted with a telescopic hard fibreglass sail developed by Mitsui O.S.K Lines under its "Wind Challenger" branding.

The ship is expected to arrive in the port at 7.45am on Monday, tying up at the Channel Berth, Mayfield, for an official welcoming ceremony attended by industry, government and diplomatic representatives from Australia and Japan.

The 235-metre vessel, capable of carrying 100,000 tonnes of coal at a time, will then shift to the Kooragang 8 berth to load before departing for its return journey on Tuesday.

The NSW Port Authority says Newcastle harbour pilots have flown to Japan to train on the vessel.

The Shofu Maru's arrival comes as the Japanese government seeks guarantees over "energy security" from the new Australian Labor government.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Australian PM Anthony Albanese are due to meet in Perth on Saturday, and while the public focus so far on their talks has been in relation to Australian exports of liquefied natural gas, Japan is still Australia's biggest customer for thermal coal used in power stations.

More than half of Newcastle's coal exports go to Japan.

Mitsui says research on the Wind Challenger project began at the University of Tokyo in 2009.

It estimates that the single sail used at the bow of the Shofu Maru will cut greenhouse gas production by 5 per cent on a trip between Australia and Japan, and up to 8 per cent on a longer Trans-Pacific voyage between Japan and the US West Coast.

Mitsui says large cargo vessels such as coal-carrying bulk carriers with flat decks are ideally suited to the use of sail, and it hopes to increase the number of sails it can fit to a single vessel, in a modern version of the multiple masts that were once fitted to sailing ships in the era before steam.

It says the hard sail body is made from glass-fibre reinforced plastic, with sensors automatically adjusting the size and direction of the sail according to the wind and water conditions.

Port of Newcastle chief executive Craig Carmody congratulated Mitsui O.S.K Lines for its work in diversifying the shipping industry.

"Their dedication to reducing fuel use, and so emissions, through innovation, should be applauded and encouraged across industry," Mr Carmody said.

An artist's impression of the design of the 'Wind Challenger' technology that Mitsui hopes to more broadly introduce into its shipping operations. Picture from Mitsui O.S.K Lines

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