How much capacity did Canada really have with MV Wloclawek?

Canada’s decision to terminate the lease agreement for MV Wloclawek (IMO Registration No.: 8302313, pictured above) leaves the military without ready access to a sealift capability. You can read more on the original charter on the Operational Support Command website here. The department will now have to hire a ship on a ‘spot’ contract as the need arises.  Fortunately, the global economic downturn means there is a glut of idle ships and finding one should not be difficult.

In my last post on this subject I asked: “How much lift capacity is enough?”  The planning of logistical lift was the subject of an exercise at Canadian Forces College that I designed, known as “Logistics Train.”  It involved planning for the lift of a multinational force of just over two corps to a hypothetical position at roughly mid-Atlantic.  The naval students were required to plan a combined air-sea lift operation to move and sustain the force for medium intensity operations lasting at least six months.  To do this, they were given an array of military and commercial assets and had to calculate the time required and identify bottlenecks that could create delays in the whole operation. Of course, there were problems they had to identify and, generally, they found them and made the appropriate adjustments to their plans.  It was a challenging exercise from the perspective of all the planning factors, with the exception of distance.  The mid-Atlantic was deemed ‘far enough to get the idea across’ by the college’s senior leadership, even though the Gulf Wars were the main topic of preoccupation in those years.

Some students hated the exercise, and thought that the logistics officers should “just take care of this loggie stuff” and leave the operators to figure out how to clear the enemy mine fields and sink the submarines.  But, of all the things we did during my time there, Logistics Train was the only activity that people repeated called back and asked for the planning parameters after they left the college.

Amongst the lift assets in the exercise were a number of roll-on/roll-off commercial cargo ships.  They came in various sizes and capacities.  Matching capacity to demand was a key learning objective of the exercise.  Matching capacity, once loaded, to the space limitations of the receiving port was another major learning objective, as not all ports were able to accommodate the larger RO-ROs, due either to length or depth restrictions at the docks.  The final learning objective was the unloading sequence required for joint and combined expeditionary operations.

The RO-ROs, in the exercise were broadly classified in four types, according to size and capacity.  Here’s some of the data, which will be useful for understanding what kind of capacity Canada had in MV Wloclawek:

RO-RO Class/Name









262 m





Australia Star


200 m





Seaboard Voyager


158 m

18 kts






147 m

15 kts





V. Small

115 m

16 kts




Legend: GRT = Gross Register Tonnage (a measure of the weight of the ship when completely empty); LIMs = Lanes in Metres of vehicle space; and DWT = Deadweight Tonnage (a measure of the total capacity of the ship for cargo, fuel and other stores need for the crew). Figures for MV Wloclawek are approximate, as they vary significantly between sources.

When placed in a table, it becomes clear that Wloclawek was a small ship of her type.  She was also fairly slow and was 22 years old, being built in Gdynia, Poland, in 1989.  Based on her length and size, it is reasonable to assume a capacity for about 3,000 lanes in metres for vehicles and/or containerised cargo.  The picture (above) shows her with a ‘double stack’ of containers carried as deck cargo, which could raise her total cargo capacity by another 15 to 25 percent, to nearly 10,000 DWT.  The advantage of such a ship is she can get into places that large ships cannot go, which is especially valuable in Africa, where port capacities are typically small.  The disadvantage, with only one ship under charter, is that the arrival of loads will be widely separated in time if the transit distance is long.

The ‘key’ planning factor for moving a Canadian battle group composed of mechanized infantry was 8,000 lanes in metres of vehicle space.  According to the plan at that time, 500 of these ‘LIMs’ would be moved by air as an ‘advance party’ while the rest followed by sea.  The personnel were also all moved by air.  This was the central logic behind the need for the Joint Support Ship to have the capacity for 2,500 LIMs each, and for there to be a minimum of three of them: the ability to transport one Canadian battle group with nationally controlled transport capacity.  The load plans assumed maximum capacity for carrying efficiency, not tactical loading for combat effectiveness.  The force would arrive with between 10 and 14 days of sustainment supplies before it would have to receive resupply.  This assumed no combat during that time: if committed to high-intensity operations upon arrival, it could need resupply in as little as three days.

MV Wloclawek was clearly a convenient, and probably cheap, first attempt by the department to experiment with controlling its own sealift capability.  The contracting process was probably the biggest lesson learned, as the ship proved not to be available when needed.  But, in terms of operational lift for the move of an expeditionary force, this little RO-RO was inadequate for the swift deployment of the ‘standard’ Canadian land operational force, a ‘mech-infantry’ battle group.  To move 7,500 LIMs would require three such ships, which would provide 1,500 LIMs of reserve capacity (16.7% of total) for additional sustainment supplies.  Assuming uniform capacity, speed and loading, the whole ‘package’ would be fairly slow to arrive, meaning the Canadian contribution would probably be used as a reserve to whatever forces other contributing countries provided.  (There is another complex discussion about readiness levels, response times, movement times to loading ports and embarkation times that this analysis ignores.)

So, Wloclawek was a first attempt at obtaining an administrative sealift capacity in the hope that it would prove to be cheaper and more readily available than past practices.  None of that proved to be the case.  Lets hope that the people doing the lessons learned activity from this experiment are able to parse out the limiting factors and make some corrective changes for the next attempt at securing sealift for Canada.