Forty Years On The Pacific/Oil and Fuel Used at Sea

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Forty Years On The Pacific by Frank Coffee
Oil and Fuel Used at Sea


SUBSTITUTION of oil for coal on ships is a matter of great importance. F. B. Dunn states that the use of oil as a fuel at sea was worked out over forty years ago by marine engineers in the Caspian Sea, who carefully guarded the secret. The American-Hawaiian Steamship Company was one of the first to investigate fuel oil for maritime use. The Mariposa was the first deep sea ship to use oil in the Pacific between San Francisco and Tahiti. About the same time the United States Naval Liquid Fuel Board made exhaustive tests, to ascertain the best method of using oil. As a result of these tests, under the direction of Rear Admiral George B. Melville, United States Navy, some battleships were equipped to use fuel oil exclusively. In 1903 the British cruisers Bedford and Arrogant were changed from coal into oil-burners at Davenport, England.

Passengers often wonder why ships travel a greater distance in one day than another. It is often a question of fuel consumption—economy. It is difficult to get the actual figures as to the amount of oil consumed, but it is about as follows: A ship of, say, eight or ten thousand tons, making fourteen knots an hour, could often in fair weather do fifteen knots, but that extra mile an hour would probably cost in coal or oil consumption, $150 or $200 more in the twenty-four hours. Oil makes very little smoke when intelligently "fired." If you want to make a chief-engineer of an oil-burner jump, point out the volume of black smoke coming out of the steamer's smokestacks. He will make for the fire-room and raise Cain. A big volume of smoke shows waste of oil and bad combustion.

In seeking information, I get various replies, all, however, claiming that much of the speed of the vessel depends upon currents, tides, weather, the state of the ship's bottom— whether covered with barnacles or clean out of dry dock. Again, bad time is often attributed to poor coal.

The human element is also to be reckoned with. Firemen get very thirsty and go ashore at way ports, where they may drink too much. This prevents a ship sailing at the advertised time, and so well is the Firemen's Union organized, that it will hold up a ship and not let her go until the last fireman is on board. There is nothing to do but grin and bear the loss.

I have known a ship of 13,000 tons gross making fifteen knots an hour on a consumption of six hundred barrels of oil, increase her speed to seventeen and one-half knots, by burning nine hundred and fifty barrels of oil. You might say, therefore, that to increase the speed of a 13,000-ton-oil-burning ship from fifteen to sixteen knots under ordinary conditions, thirty per cent. more oil would be required.

The question is often asked, how much is saved by burning oil instead of coal? This depends entirely on the relative cost of oil and coal. It varies greatly in different parts of the world; for example, coal may be $5.00 a ton in Australia at the same time that it is $40.00 a ton in Italy.

I give the following figures which appeared in the Vancouver Province, Feb. 19, 1913, referring to the steamer Princess Charlotte, 3,000 tons, of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The figures were authenticated by Mr. W. G. Dickie, and are from actual tests carried out:

Costs of Oil and Fuel (Forty Years On the Pacific)←.png

When obtainable, crude petroleum is used as it comes from the well. On other occasions, it is not used until the benzine, gasoline or kerosene is distilled, the percentage of which in each case depends upon the character of the oil. It is often very thick and runs slowly through pipes, but is thinned down by steam coils in the tanks.

The petroleum of the Pacific and the Mexican coasts has as asphaltum base, while that obtained near the Atlantic has a paraffine base. When a ship is traveling in a cold latitude at a temperature of the water at 40 degrees above Fahrenheit, considerable difficulty is experienced in getting the oil through the pipes.