Wild fish stocks around the world are crashing, in part due to overfishing. Now, I'm not saying the Lafayette fish processing ship is the sole cause of the problem, but the 1360 tonnes of fish it freezes and ships a day probably isn't helping the situation.
The Lafayette is the $US100 million mother ship of the Pacific Andes fishing fleet. It measures 228m long by 32m wide. It acts as a floating processing centre for a fleet of five super-trawler ships and seven other catcher vessels; collecting and freezing the trawlers' catches, then packaging and unloading the frozen fish onto shore-bound ferries.
Once one of these collecting vessels has caught its fill, it'll come abreast of the Lafayette and pump the contents of its hold into the processing ship at one of three pumping stations — the two stations on the port side can handle two simultaneous trawlers, the third pumping station on the stern of the vessel is only used when rough seas make pulling alongside unsafe.
Onboard the Lafayette, the fish are first deposited in one of 32 refrigerated primary holding tanks, each with a 10,000 cubic metre capacity. It can support much as 6350 tonnes of fish in freezing waters. From there, a vacuum pump sucks the fish from the holding tanks and dumps them on one of three large hoppers. These hoppers then lift the catch up onto a fish grading system.
Grading fish by size is an automated process, as mechanical graders offer improved precision over manually sizing them, 6-10 times more accurate in fact. Human sorters still predominantly perform the sorting of fish by species and freshness. Grading fish by size is an essential step in processing. As the fish roll down a slope, they fall through one of four specifically-sized slots. These machines can sort anywhere from one to 14 tonnes of fish every hour. Once sorted, the fish are manually inspected and then deposited into a series of secondary storage tanks.
From here, the fish are pumped along to the freezing lines. These six lines consist of a series of vertical plate freezers — 232 in total — each simultaneously flash freezing 52, 20kg blocks of fish measuring 100mm by 530mm by 530mm. In all, the Lafayette produces 12,064 blocks per cycle — freezing 1360 tonnes of fish every day and over .
After the fish are solid, they're packed into cartons which are loaded onto pallets. These pallets are either stored in the refrigerated cargo hold — which is designed to hold 12,700 tonnes of fish on pallets at -26C and is serviced by a fleet of 12 electric forklifts — or conveyed topside for transfer to reefer vessels ferry the fish ashore.
The Lafayette, on the other hand, does not go back to shore. It's designed to stay perceptually at sea with supplies and fuel ferried out to it. Since it acts as the primary processing station for the cathers of the support fleet, any interruption in the Lafayette's function would cause the the entire fleet to stop. This ship is so huge that replaces the production of seven standard factory ships — saving 32 tonnes of fuel daily and reducing the necessary crew by 300.
The Lafayette operates in the South Pacific Ocean fishing for Chilean Jack Mackerel, a white fish primarily consumed in West Africa and currently worth about $US1000/tonne. It's the seventh most harvested fish in the world. Pacific Andes, the company that owns the Lafayette, was one of the first fishing companies to commercially supply the Alaskan Pollock. Pollock is now used in the likes of McDonald's fish fillets.
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