The World's Largest Floating Vacuum

Constructing your own personal Skull Island? Don't waste time with some rinky-dink 80-year-old dustpan. This mammoth ship is too big to fit through the Panama Canal and can hoover enough soil to cover two football fields from 120 meters down.

A trailing suction hopper dredger (TSHD) drags a vacuum-like head behind the ship, which inhales loose material from the ocean bottom or riverbed, depositing the material in an on-board holding area, or hopper. Once full, the dredger will either dump this spoil through trap-doors in the bottom of the ship or pump it out of the hoppers via "rainbowing"—as you can see above—or through a pipe. TSHD's are extensively used in both maintenance dredging—such as with Victoria, Australia's controversial Port Phillip Bay project—and in land reclamation jobs—like creating the Palm Islands in Dubai.

Among TSHD's, Cristobal Colon is the largest—like, by a lot. Built in 2009 by Construcciones Navales del Norte, Sestao in Spain, the Cristobal Colon is the new marquee ship in the Jan De Nul company's burgeoning 1.8 billion euro fleet of mega-dredgers. It measures 223 meters long, 41 metes wide, with a 15 meter draft and weighs in at 78,000 tons. Its hopper holds 46,000 cubic meters of spoil—nearly 40 percent more than the previous record-holder, the Vasco da Gama—yet can still outpace the smaller ship, 18 knots to 16. This combination of superior capacity and top speed reduces the amount of downtime the Colon spends travelling to dump sites and unloading cargo.

In addition to holding more, the Cristobal Colon is also among the deepest dredging ships in operation today, with a maximum depth of 155 meters. This impressive depth is achieved through a novel implementation whereby the dual 6500kW dredging pumps—which provide enough electricity to light up a small town—are submerged under the surface rather than stored on-board. It employs two alternate heads—one for depths up to 80 meters and the other for depths up to the 155 meter maximum. A lightweight lattice structure provides support for the heads and helps protect the 1,300 millimeter feed lines. In less than three hours, this ship can collect enough spoil to bury an area the size of a football field under six meters of the stuff using its 16,000kW discharge pumps.

And while the Cristobal Colon is worth a king's ransom at 175 million euros, it was recently joined by a twin sister, the Leiv Erikkson in May, 2010.

Top art courtesy of Port Strategy

[Dredging Wiki - Bouwmaterieel.nl - Sand and Gravel - The Art of Dredging - Jan de Nul - Marine Insight]

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