How do you navigate an unnavigable river?


In 2011 one of Europe’s largest crude oil refiners and fuel retailers, PKN Orlen, announced the construction of a new power plant in Wloclawek, Poland. A consortium, including Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin and General Electric International, were awarded the $349 million contract. Designed to meet stringent environmental requirements, the combined cycle generating (CCGT) station will produce 463MW of power through a gas turbine with a heat recovery steam generator (HRSG) and steam turbine.

Under the contract, GE International will supply all equipment, including gas and steam turbines, generator and HRSG modules for the plant. GE’s Canadian partner – SNC Lavalin provided engineering, procurement, construction services and will coordinate the start-up and commissioning of the Wloclawek CCGT plant.

Construction for the new ‘green’ power generating station began in March 2013 and PKN expects the plant to come online in December 2015. The project will help Poland in its goal of diversifying its energy mix away from coal, which accounts for 95% of generated power.

Instar Projects, the specialist out of gauge and heavy lift logistics Company, were contracted by both General Electric and SNC Lavalin for the transport of the equipment vital for the new plants commissioning.

The power plant construction drew upon a very diverse and international supplier base. General Electric France constructed the turbine whilst the generator was shipped from the United States. The turbine was a single piece of equipment approximately 11 x 5 x 5 metres in size, weighing 302 tonnes. The Generator was approximately 9.5 x 5.5 x 4 metres in size and weighed 279 tonnes. The 15 heat recovery steam generator modules were built in Korea and Vietnam, each module was 27.5 x 4.6 x 3.4 metres in size and weighed between 145 and 198 tonnes.

Apart from the ‘heavy equipment’ suppliers, original equipment manufacturers from as far as China, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain and Turkey contributed to the mix. Fortunately the early stages were quite simple and Gdansk Port was well equipped to deal with the heavy and out of gauge equipment.

The final stage delivery for the super-heavy equipment was the most difficult and called upon Instar’s creativity and engineering skills. Gdansk has excellent road and rail infrastructure as befits a world class port so the containerised and lighter weight freight shipments presented few challenges.

Access to the new CCGT power plant construction site was through the adjacent Chemical plant; timing of deliveries was critical as equipment was convoyed through to final delivery. In total 280 trucks made the delivery into Wloclawek.

The real difficulty lay in transporting the turbine, generator and the 6 HRSG modules (with weight of more than 180 tons). Its sheer size and bulk precluded a road or rail solution. Too many obstacles, bridges, too small roads, all conspired to push the behemoth freight towards a water born solution.

That was the Vistula, the longest and largest river in Poland. 1,047 kilometres long, it rises at Barania Góra in the south of Poland, 1,220 meters above sea level in the western part of Carpathian Mountains. It flows over the great Polish plains, passing several large Polish cities along its way, including Kraków, Warsaw and Włocławek before emptying in to the Baltic Sea.

The Vistula is navigable from the Baltic Sea to Sandomierz. However, the route to Bydgoszcz (where the Bydgoszcz Canal joins the river) can only accommodate modest river vessels of CEMT class II as far as Bydgoszcz. Upstream of Bydgoszcz the river depth lessens and its navigability is severely limited. However, there were no other options to get the giant turbines to the Wloclawek site.

The Vistula River is quite beautiful. However, it is also known as the ‘last wild river of Europe’ which may have caused some consternation amongst the logisticians. For most of its course the Vistula is untamed and unregulated. In some places the river is over a kilometre wide. It is dotted with numerous sandbanks, thicket clusters and oxbow lakes. The water level follows the diktat of the weather. It is shallowest between August and October whilst the highest levels are observed in March and April and the end of June. The Vistula easily changes its course and the riverbed topography constantly changes.

In addition, Vistula’s water level may drop dramatically during the day. Yachts have grounded as the elevation falls by as much as 80 centimetres. Other barriers like low bridges, overpasses, culverts and low or unmarked power lines and underwater obstacles need to be identified, removed or by-passed prior to any journey by anything other than a kayak. High voltage power lines are plentiful and many hang dangerously low for passing vessels. Despite regular lifting operations, there is ‘sag’ and the live cable becomes a menace.

The river is desperately shallow. Distance between keel and river bottom is dangerously short. Non-organic material presents a threat to passing vessels and endangers a hull breach. This is especially true near bridges and the remnants of the old bridges (sunken pillars) or close to habitations. Flooded rubbish and bigger objects abound. Old washing machines, bikes, parts of agricultural machinery, all add to the jumble of degrading and hard edged danger.

The Vistula, beyond Bydgoszcz, is deemed unnavigable to regular vessels. Aside from the man- made detritus, dumped in the water and the rotting, partially hidden ruins, nature also augments the challenge. Aquatic vegetation creates a green carpet. Floating islands of dense clumps of grass, plants and branches flow along with the current. All of this slow the passage of a vessel considerably and choke the engine cooling system.

Project logistics is partly about reducing risks and danger of transporting huge pieces of equipment. It is to proactively engineer the best solution, with careful planning. It is to understand the challenges that impede the passage and to overcome them. One does not trust to luck, good fortune or good weather. There were plenty of anecdotes about others, with less initiative, stuck for months on the ever shifting and unforgiving Vistula river banks.

The river trip from Gdansk to Wloclawek was 5-days. 230 kilometres of river bed was scanned by sonar to find the optimum passage. Thus, the Instar logisticians were able to map a route through the maze, to deliver 8 heavily laden pontoons close to the power plant site.

The river is dammed at Wloclawek. A request to release ‘some water’ enabled the Instar team to claim centimetres of draught, on the final run. Whilst the journey from port to site took 5-days, the full flood release of the Wloclawek dam only gave an additional 40 centimetres, for 5-hours. Instar played their ‘joker’ card played right at the last stage, as the delivery vessel and its precious cargo docked. “Audentes Fortuna Iuvat” (fortune favours those daring) as grey cloud cover delivered a deluge to the Vistula on the final few days of the journey. Despite aid from the hydroelectric plant and the weather, water levels remained firmly under the official navigable limits. Expert navigation, proactive use of sonar and a well- engineered plan enabled the valuable cargo to berth at Wloclawek safely.

Pontoon by pontoon, the tug manoeuvred the loads close to the jetty, so the difficult and arduous disembarkation process could begin. Because of the limited capacity of the pontoons normal roll off operations were precluded. With the heavy load gas turbine (302t) and the generator (302t) skidding techniques were used. The heaviest loads were secured on to a 14-axle 1.5 coupled trailer for the final 5 kilometre escorted run from the river into the new power plant.

Final positioning of the heavy equipment was by skidding and strand jack gantry system. A mobile gantry crane lifted the loads and positioned on to the new foundations. It was a large and complex undertaking on Europe’s ‘last wild’ water-way. 8 pontoons and a barge; 160 standard tilt trucks; 120 special loads supported by 2 ballast trucks dragging 14 axle 1,5 coupled trailers for the super heavy loads. In total, over 6500 tonnes or 26 thousand cubic metres by volume was delivered to the new Wloclawek power plant.

About the Company.

Instar Logistics is a global logistics provider headquartered in Moscow, Russia, operating worldwide with 1000 employees in 20-countries. Privately owned and established in 1994, Instar Logistics provides complex and well- engineered full service logistics solutions including out of gauge and regular transportation and freight forwarding, engineering and customs clearance for the oil, gas and energy sectors. The company has enjoyed continued growth and expansion since its inception.   

INSTAR Project Logistics GmbH

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