On a lush patch of cleared jungle outside the slow-paced Pacific coastal town of Punta Morales, Costa Rica, a score of people labour to change the future of the shipping industry.
A workday starts with an early communal breakfast. Then the sawmill and chainsaws start up, and shipbuilding continues until late afternoon. They’ve nearly laid the keel of their wooden schooner, Ceiba.
Designed to haul bulk cargo using only wind and sun as power, the ship will be three-masted and have an electric motor that can be charged from solar panels or the wind.
The company is Sailcargo, and their mission is to “inspire change in the shipping and transportation industry,” says co-founder Danielle Doggett. “We hope to do that by offering a financially successful, financially viable, emissions-free cargo ship.”
With a capacity equivalent to 10 standard shipping containers, Ceiba will be tiny relative to modern cargo vessels hauling 18,000 containers or more. Despite this, wooden ships hauling freight under sail are a budding trend, and Ceiba will join the ranks of similar operations on other oceans, already transporting boutique cargoes such as rum, wine, cacao, and coffee.
The intention with Sailcargo is not to compete with conventional cargo ships, but to promote an alternate concept of ocean shipping – and to demonstrate that carbon-neutral shipping is possible, and profitable. “You don’t go to your farmer’s market … and ask ‘how can you compete with Walmart?’” says Doggett. “It’s emissions-free cargo, we’re not trying to compete, we’re offering a different service.”
Like the ships, the carbon footprint of the modern shipping industry is super-sized. The International Maritime Organization, the UN body that regulates the industry, has struggled to rein in emissions and to free itself from the corporate influence of status quo industry voices. Without bold action, shipping emissions are set to balloon in coming decades, driven largely by increased global trade.
Doggett has worked aboard other sail cargo vessels and acted as an advisor to other sail cargo operations. “The main thing we tried to do with this company is take the lessons we’ve learned from those pioneering companies and make it more economically viable,” she says. “If it doesn’t make money, [investors] aren’t interested. So we said okay, let’s start with that and from there we can build a beautiful ship and have a value added service.”
Ceiba will begin her maiden voyage up the Pacific coast of the Americas in roughly three-and-a-half years. They already have cargoes booked – a twice-yearly load of coffee destined for BC, with a return voyage hauling barley back to Costa Rica. Although not a passenger or training vessel, some of Ceiba’s berths will be set aside for shareholders looking for a working vacation, or environmental scientists conducting research.
Businesses looking to haul freight on the Pacific coast sans carbon can contact Sailcargo. Investors can also purchase stocks. www.sailcargo.org
Gavin MacRae is the Watershed Sentinel’s staff reporter and editorial assistant. He lives in Comox, BC.