Oil tankers appeared in the late 19th century; today they are among the largest ships.
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Since ancient times sea travel played a prominent role in trade and travel (and in wars as well). As a result of the Age of Discoveries, forms of marine transportation were completely transformed at the beginning of the Modern Age, but it was the second half of the 20th century when a true revolution took place in this mode of transportation.
The first tanker ship, designed to transport bulk liquid cargo, was built in the 1880s. Then, after WW II, large numbers of tankers and container ships were produced to transport bulk liquids (mostly crude oil) and enormous quantities of various goods in intermodal containers.
The emergence of this new type of vessels led to a decrease in loading losses, loading time and costs. The only drawback is long delivery time. These gigantic ships travel all over the world, their shipping routes start in similarly gigantic ports.
The average length of oil tankers is between 200–400 meters (656–1,312 feet), their width about 30–70 meters (98–230 feet), while their draft is about 15–30 meters (49–98 feet). Their speed is between 15–16 knots (28–30 km/h or 17–19 mph).
The most important considerations in the design of the hull are to provide balance and safety, and to maximize cargo capacity. The largest oil tankers were built in the 1970s partly for economic (high oil prices) and partly for political reasons (the Suez Canal was closed). The largest of them, the 456 meters (1,496 feet) long Seawise Giant, was built in 1979.
Oil tankers are categorized according to size. Supertankers, including very large crude carriers (VLCC) and ultra large crude carriers (ULCC), can dock only in a few ports in the world. Due to their size, these tankers can navigate through only very few straits and channels. On the other hand, smaller tankers, including Panamax, Aframax and Suezmax tankers, can dock in smaller ports and navigate through narrower and shallower straits and channels. (Their names refer to their routes, that is, to the canal or strait they can pass through).
The Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in 1989 off the coast of Alaska, spilling about 37,000 tonnes of oil into the water. As a result of the incident, double-hulled ships were introduced and have been used since then. With this new design, oil is pumped into the inner hull, thus protecting the environment from being polluted in case of any incident. When the cargo hold is full, the ballast tanks in the space between the walls of the double hull are empty; however, when the cargo hold is empty or only partly loaded, the ballast tanks are filled with a required amount of ballast water.
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