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Loading a ro-ro passenger car ferry

Roll-on/roll-off (RORO or ro-ro) ships are vessels designed to carry wheeled cargo, such as automobiles, trucks, semi-trailer trucks, trailers, and railroad cars, that are driven on and off the ship on their own wheels. This is in contrast to Lift-on/Lift-off (LoLo) vessels, which use a crane to load and unload cargo.

RORO vessels have built-in ramps that allow the cargo to be efficiently rolled on and off the vessel when in port. While smaller ferries that operate across rivers and other short distances often have built-in ramps, the term RORO is generally reserved for larger oceangoing vessels. The ramps and doors may be stern-only, or bow and stern for quick loading.


MS Ulysses (largest capacity car ferry in the world)
Ferry terminal for the Peninsula Searoad Transport service, with cars leaving a ferry

Types of RORO vessels include ferries, cruiseferries, cargo ships, and barges. New automobiles that are transported by ship are often moved on a large type of RORO called a pure car carrier (PCC) or pure car/truck carrier (PCTC).

Elsewhere in the shipping industry, cargo is normally measured by the metric tonne, but RORO cargo is typically measured in lanes in metres (LIMs). This is calculated by multiplying the cargo length in metres by the number of decks and by its width in lanes (lane width differs from vessel to vessel, and there are several industry standards). On PCCs, cargo capacity is often measured in RT or RT43 units (based on a 1966 Toyota) or in car-equivalent units (CEU).

The largest RORO passenger ferry is MS Color Magic, a 75,100 GT cruise ferry that entered service in September 2007 for Color Line. Built in Finland by Aker Finnyards, it is 223.70 m (733 ft 11 in) long and 35 m (114 ft 10 in) wide, and can carry 550 cars, or 1270 lane meters of cargo.[1]

The RORO passenger ferry with the greatest car-carrying capacity is the Ulysses (named after a novel by James Joyce), owned by Irish Ferries. The Ulysses entered service on 25 March 2001 and operates between Dublin and Holyhead. The 50,938 GT ship is 209.02 m (685 ft 9 in) long and 31.84 m (104 ft 6 in) wide, and can carry 1342 cars/4101 lane meters of cargo.[2]


At first, wheeled vehicles carried as cargo on oceangoing ships were treated like any other cargo. Automobiles had their fuel tanks emptied and their batteries disconnected before being hoisted into the ship’s hold, where they were chocked and secured. This process was tedious and difficult, and vehicles were subject to damage and could not be used for routine travel.

The world's first roll-on/roll-off service was a train ferry, started in 1833 by the Monkland and Kirkintilloch Railway, which operated a wagon ferry on the Forth and Clyde Canal in Scotland.[3]

Train-ferry services were used extensively during World War I. From February 10, 1918, high volumes of railway rolling stock, artillery and supplies for the Front were shipped to France from the "secret port" of Richborough, near Sandwich on the South Coast of England. This involved three train-ferries to be built, each with four sets of railway line on the main deck to allow for up to 54 railway wagons to be shunted directly on and off the ferry. These train-ferries could also be used to transport motor vehicles along with railway rolling stock. Later that year a second train-ferry was established from the Port of Southampton on the South East Coast. In the first month of operations at Richborough, 5,000 tons were transported across the Channel, by the end of 1918 it was nearly 261,000 tons.[4]

There were many advantages of the use of train-ferries over conventional shipping in World War I. It was much easier to move the large, heavy artillery and tanks that this kind of modern warfare required using train-ferries as opposed to repeated loading and unloading of cargo. By manufacturers loading tanks, guns and other heavy items for shipping to the front directly on to railway wagons, which could be shunted on to a train-ferry in England and then shunted directly on to the French Railway Network, with direct connections to the Front Lines, many man hours of unnecessary labour were avoided. This was of utmost importance, as by 1918, the British Railway companies were experiencing a severe shortage of labour with hundreds of thousands of skilled and unskilled labourers away fighting at the front. The increase of heavy traffic because of the war effort meant that economies and efficiency in transport had to be made wherever possible.[4]

During World War II, landing ships were among the first seagoing ships enabling road vehicles to roll directly on and off. Postwar, the idea was adopted for merchant ships and short ferry crossings. The first RORO service crossing the English Channel began from Dover in 1953.[5]

The first roll-on/roll-off vessel that was purpose-built to transport loaded semi trucks was the Searoad of Hyannis, which began operation in 1956. While modest in capacity, it could transport three semi trailers between Hyannis in Massachusetts and Nantucket Island, even in ice conditions.[6]

In 1957, the US military issued a contract to the Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Chester, Pennsylvania, for the construction of a new type of motorized vehicle carrier. The ship, the Comet, had a stern ramp as well as interior ramps, which allowed cars to drive directly from the dock, onto the ship, and into place. Loading and unloading was sped up dramatically. Comet also had an adjustable chocking system for locking cars onto the decks and a ventilation system to remove exhaust gases that accumulate during vehicle loading.

During the 1982 Falklands War, SS Atlantic Conveyor was requisitioned as an emergency aircraft and helicopter transport for British Hawker Siddeley Harrier STOVL fighter planes; one Harrier was kept fueled, armed, and ready to VTOL launch for emergency air protection against long range Argentine aircraft. The Atlantic Conveyor was sunk by Argentine Exocet missiles after offloading the Harriers to proper aircraft carriers, but the vehicles and helicopters still aboard were destroyed.[7] After the war, a concept called the shipborne containerized air-defense system (SCADS) proposed a modular system to quickly convert a large RORO into an emergency aircraft carrier with ski jump, fueling systems, radar, defensive missiles, munitions, crew quarters, and work spaces. The entire system could be installed in about 48 hours on a container ship or RORO, when needed for operations up to a month unsupplied. The system could quickly be removed and stored again when the conflict was over.[8] The Soviets flying Yakovlev Yak-38 fighters also tested operations using the civilian RORO ships Agostinio Neto and Nikolai Cherkasov.[9]

Car carriers[edit]

Car carrier Johann Schulte during discharge of Volkswagen in Baltimore
A pure car carrier ship's starboard side showing side ramp
MV Tønsberg, the largest car/truck carrier.

The first cargo ships specially fitted for the transport of large quantities of cars came into service in the early sixties. These ships still had their own loading gear and so-called hanging decks inside. They were, for example, chartered by the German Volkswagen AG to transport vehicles in the U.S. and Canada. Since 1970, the market for exporting and importing cars has increased dramatically and the number and type of ROROs has increased also. In 1973, Japan’s K Line built the European Highway, the first pure car carrier (PCC), which carried 4,200 automobiles. Today’s pure car carriers and their close cousins, the pure car/truck carrier (PCTC), are distinctive ships with a box-like superstructure running the entire length and breadth of the hull, fully enclosing the cargo. They typically have a stern ramp and a side ramp for dual loading of thousands of vehicles (such as cars, trucks, heavy machineries, tracked units, Mafi trailers, and loose statics), and extensive automatic fire control systems.

The PCTC has liftable decks to increase vertical clearance, as well as heavier decks for "high-and-heavy" cargo. A 6,500-unit car ship, with 12 decks, can have three decks which can take cargo up to 150 short tons (136 t; 134 long tons) with liftable panels to increase clearance from 1.7 to 6.7 m (5 ft 7 in to 22 ft 0 in) on some decks. Lifting decks to accommodate higher cargo reduces the total capacity.

These kinds of vessels perform a usual speed of 16 knots at eco-speed, while at full speed can achieve more than 19 knots.

With the building of Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics's 8,000-CEU car carrier Faust out of Stockholm in June 2007 car carriers entered a new era of the large car and truck carrier (LCTC).[10] Currently, the largest are Wilh. Wilhelmsen's "Mark V" ships, led by MV Tønsberg.

The car carrier Auriga Leader, built in 2008 with a capacity of 6,200 cars, is the world's first partially solar powered ship.[11]


The seagoing RORO car ferry, with large external doors close to the waterline and open vehicle decks with few internal bulkheads, has a reputation for being a high-risk design, to the point where the acronym is sometimes derisively expanded to "roll on/roll over".[12] An improperly secured loading door can cause a ship to take on water and sink, as happened in 1987 with MS Herald of Free Enterprise. Water sloshing on the vehicle deck can set up a free surface effect, making the ship unstable and causing it to capsize. Free surface water on the vehicle deck was determined by the Court of Inquiry to be the immediate cause of the 1968 capsize of the TEV Wahine in New Zealand.[13]

Despite these inherent risks, the very high freeboard raises the seaworthiness of these vessels. For example, the car carrier MV Cougar Ace listed 80 degrees to its port side in 2006, but did not sink, since its high enclosed sides prevented water from entering.

Some RORO ship casualties are mentioned here.


USNS Bob Hope, a non-combatant RORO vessel, at anchorage in Souda Harbor


The acronym ROPAX (roll-on/roll-off passenger) describes a RORO vessel built for freight vehicle transport along with passenger accommodation. Technically this encompasses all ferries with both a roll-on/roll-off car deck and passenger-carrying capacities, but in practice, ships with facilities for more than 500 passengers are often referred to as cruiseferries.


The ConRo vessel is a hybrid of a RORO and a container ship. This type of vessel has a below-deck area used for vehicle storage while stacking containerized freight on the top decks. ConRo ships, such as those in the fleet of Atlantic Container Line, can carry a combination of 1,900 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) of containers, up to 1,000 TEU of heavy equipment, project and oversized cargo on three decks, and up to 2,000 automobiles on five decks. Separate internal ramp systems within the vessel segregate automobiles from other vehicles, Mafi trailers, and break-bulk cargo.


A RoLo (roll-on/lift-off) vessel is another hybrid vessel type, with ramps serving vehicle decks but with other cargo decks only accessible when the tides change or by the use of a crane.


Large, Medium-Speed Roll-on/Roll-off (LMSR) refers to several classes of Military Sealift Command (MSC) roll-on/roll-off type cargo ships. Some are purpose-built to carry military cargo, while others are converted.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Asklander, Micke. "M/S Color Magic (2007)". Fakta om Fartyg (in in Swedish). Archived from the original on 2012-10-04. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  2. ^ Asklander, Micke. "M/S Ulysses (2001)". Fakta om Fartyg (in in Swedish). Archived from the original on 2012-10-15. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  3. ^ Marshall, John (1989). The Guinness Railway Book. Enfield: Guinness. ISBN 0-85112-359-7. 
  4. ^ a b Pratt, Edwin A (1921). British Railways and the Great War Book. London: Selwyn and Blount, Ltd. ISBN 1151852406. 
  5. ^ "DinardViking". Simplon Postcards: The Passenger Ship Website. 2005. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  6. ^ "Roll-On Roll-Off Ship" Popular Mechanics, April 1956, p. 87
  7. ^ http://www.fleetairarmoa.org/pages/fleet_air_arm_history/history.shtml
  8. ^ http://www.wingweb.co.uk/aircraft/Harrier_VTOL_Jump-Jet_part4.html
  9. ^ http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_488.shtml
  10. ^ Louis Llovio (2007). "World's largest car carrier leaves Port of Baltimore on its maiden voyage". The Baltimore Daily Record. Retrieved 13 September 2011. 
  11. ^ "Using Solar Power for Ship Propulsion The World First Solar-Powered Ship Sails". NYK-Nippon Oil Joint Project. NYK Line. 5 January 2009. Retrieved 30 May 2013. 
  12. ^ Bryson, Bill (1995). Notes from a Small Island. London: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-40534-8. 
  13. ^ Makarios, Emmanuel (2003). The Wahine Disaster: a tragedy remembered. Wellington: Grantham House. p. 50. ISBN 1-86934-079-5. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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Fri, 18 Apr 2014 08:32:39 -0700

Ross said the sinking of the Sewol echoed a 1987 disaster in which the roll-on, roll-off car ferry Herald of Free Enterprise sank within minutes after taking on water as it set sail across the English Channel from Belgium to Britain. “It happened so ...
Thu, 17 Apr 2014 19:48:45 -0700

On the positive side, iron ore and scrap (+5%), coal (+15%), agribulk (+69%), other dry bulk cargo (+13%), containers (+1%), roll on/roll off (+9%) and other mixed cargo (+9%) did better. CEO Allard Castelein of the Port of Rotterdam Authority said ...
The Sun Daily
Thu, 17 Apr 2014 05:04:52 -0700

This facility, when introduced in 1993, came with a RoRo (roll-on/roll-off) ferry service, which enabled Singaporeans to bring their cars into Johor. However, this was terminated in 2002. But strangely, despite the abundance of water there has been no ...
Thu, 17 Apr 2014 11:00:00 -0700

Amid numerous maritime accidents over the years that has so far left thousands of people dead, the Japanese government will facilitate the procurement of 10 passenger vessels that will be used in the popular RoRo (Roll-On, Roll-Off) operations in the ...
GMA News
Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:33:45 -0700

A roll-on roll-off (RORO) vessel was stranded off Romblon early Wednesday after its propeller got entangled with a piece of rope, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said. In its report, the NDRRMC said the incident occurred at ...
Stornoway Gazette
Wed, 16 Apr 2014 06:18:45 -0700

The new ferries in 1964 were the first RO RO (Roll On Roll Off or Drive on Drive off ) ships to serve the west coast islands. Prior to that vehicles and general cargo were lifted aboard using a cargo net (Lo Lo or Lift on Lift off). In its first year ...
Philippine Star
Wed, 16 Apr 2014 08:59:04 -0700

APFC secured JICA's funding support from the Logistics Infrastructure Development Project of the state-run Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) for the 10 roll-on, roll off (RoRo) vessels. The shipping firm will soon launch the second of 10 ...
Wed, 16 Apr 2014 02:39:18 -0700

Balilo noted that most of the recorded travels are heading to the Visayas and Mindanao while they are expecting heavy traffic for interisland ships and roll-on-roll-off (RoRo) vessels until Thursday especially in the ports of Batangas and Calapan. He ...

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