A LASH vessel stands for Lighter Aboard Ship, and its primary function is loading and unloading barges. Basically, LASH vessel is used for transporting barges, and it is sometimes referred to as LASH carriers, barge carriers, kangaroo ships or lighter transport ships.
The barge, itself, is a boat with flat bottom developed for transporting goods through the rivers and canals that large vessels cannot go through. The typical size of a barge is measured at 195 by 35 feet and can load up to 1,500 tons of goods.
Depending on the specs, a “mother vessel” could accommodate 84 to 89 barges, utilizing the onboard crane. Periodically, empty barges were stacked on the top tier, with the assistance of a shore crane, for the purpose of repositioning empties. A few LASH vessels were able to accommodate some containers.
LASH can be described as an early version of the intermodal concept, utilizing barges instead of containers.
The LASH system reduced potential claims, since the cargo was not transloaded and re-handled at a deep-water port, after being loaded and secured upriver in a LASH barge.
The costs of loading and unloading the barges at non-union inland river terminals was typically less expensive. And it was cheaper to tow barges for loading at several coastal ports, instead of the mother vessel making multiple calls.
Port costs were reduced with the mother vessel working at anchorage, and not waiting in line for a berth.
As the barges were single skinned port and starboard (double fore and aft), sweating was a problem at certain times of the year. A remedy was to line the barge with plywood to separate the cargo from the barge hull this was a cost item.
Rough handling of barges by tow companies caused damage, and claims. A fully laden LASH barge had little freeboard, and sat low in the water – which became an issue in tows which combined LASH and standard river barges (approximately 195 feet long and 35 feet wide) which sat much higher. The barges were not easily incorporated into river tows, so they were placed within the tow with a rake type barge in front.
Some towers would charge much higher rates, or decline to move these barges. This forced some LASH operators to create their own towing companies in the U.S. and overseas. LASH was at the mercy of the towing companies.
Cargo was generally limited to length of 44 feet and height of 13 feet. If cargo did not stow well in the barge, creating dead space, then it was not a cost-effective means of transport for the shipper.
The mother vessels were expensive to operate and maintain. The cranes were slow and susceptible to breaking down.
From the beginning, this system caused problems with organized longshore labor, as the vessel could drop and pick up barges with only a few personnel, rather than the 18-man gangs which was the norm at the time.
In the end, LASH had a finite lifespan, and was doomed to obsolescence at the hands of the container carriers.
However, it was a very interesting and unique service, and worked extremely well for many commodities and customers. In nearly 40 years of service, millions of tons of cargo were hauled, and many jobs were created. LASH will always have a place in the annals of maritime history.
The operation of these ships was marred by a serious and mysterious shipwreck…
MV MÜNCHEN was launched May 12, 1972 at the shipyards of Cockerill, Hoboken and delivered September 22, 1972. The MÜNCHEN was a Lash ship and was the only ship of its kind under German flag. MS MÜNCHEN was a German Lash carrier of the Hapag-Lloyd line that sank with all hands for unknown reasons in a severe storm in December 1978.
The most accepted theory is that one or more freak waves hit MÜNCHEN and damaged her so, that she drifted for 33 hours with a list of 50 degrees without electricity or propulsion. On the evening of December 20 the international search operation officially ended, the West German government and Hapag-Lloyd decided to search for two more days, British and American forces supported them. Altogether 13 aircraft from United Kingdom, United States of America, Portugal and Germany and nearly 80 ships searched for MÜNCHEN or her crew. On February 16 the car transporter Don Carlos salvaged a lifeboat from the starboard side of MÜNCHEN, the last object discovered from her.
Presented by Romano Pisciotti