France’s transatlantic sail-powered cargo revolution should put the wind up Brits


France is sinking euros into new, greener, sail-powered cargo ships for transatlantic services. It’s a clever response to America’s growing green awareness, says the UK-US delivery specialist ParcelHero. Britain could be left becalmed if US firms start to place more emphasis on their products’ carbon footprint.

ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks M.I.L.T., who is a former Editor of ‘Lloyds Shipping Index’, says: ’This month, French firm Vela announced that it will build and operate a new trimaran cargo ship that will operate 100% by wind power. It will provide a 10-15 day France-US warehouse-to-warehouse service and offer the pallet load equivalent of 51 containers. It claims advanced weather routing techniques will mean it can offer faster routing than any conventional container ship on the Bayonne-New York service. It’s likely to be launched mid-2025.

‘Meanwhile, another French company, Zephyr & Boree, has already placed an order for ten wind-assisted 1,000 teu container ships, with their huge “sails” supplemented by methanol-powered engines. The project to build wind-assisted ships for transatlantic services is being supported by a number of French shippers to make the considerable investment viable. The ships are being built in South Korea and delivery will start in 2025. They are likely to cost a hefty $62.2m each.

‘We’ve already seen than green tech is becoming a financial as well as environmental imperative. America’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has introduced $369bn of tax credits and incentives to US companies investing in wind and clean technologies – but that seems to be at the expense of EU, UK and Japanese companies. British companies doing business with the US need to urgently prioritise green initiatives to keep on top of America’s environmental and technological legislation, which may also have something of a protectionist element.

‘What is the UK doing to answer France’s transatlantic green initiative? Well, there are a number of encouraging plans and, indeed, some UK-designed wind-assisted auxiliary propulsion units are already working. For example, Anemoi Marine Technologies’ Rotor Sails were launched in 2020. These tall cylinders reduce fuel consumption and lower harmful emissions by 5-30%.

‘UK marine engineering consultancy BAR Technologies has just won type approval from classification society DNV for its wind propulsion technology WindWings, built in partnership with Yara Marine Technologies. That’s enabling it to push ahead with a variety of new projects. Similarly, the UK’s Smart Green Shipping is developing plans for a retrofit of its FastRig wingsails onto ships transporting biomass and nuclear waste. An agreement announced this month with Nuclear Transport Solutions (NTS) could enable its wingsail design to provide direct thrust to NTS ships such as the ‘The Pacific Grebe’ to destinations such as the US.

‘It’s all looking promising but a regular UK-US sail-assisted container service still looks a long way away. We’re certainly not looking at services starting in 2025 as the French are. Britain has no short-term answer to France’s transatlantic wind-powered revolution. It looks like we’ve missed the boat and that’s a shame. The equivalent to Vela’s 10-day France-US pallet service, operated entirely by sail, would offer a welcome green alternative for UK shippers.

‘The much-vaunted post-Brexit Free Trade Agreement between Britain and the USA seems as far away as ever. However, Prime Minister Sunak did recently agree an “Atlantic Declaration” that could see help for UK companies selling green tech, such as car batteries, to the US.  Significant hurdles remain, however. Most UK goods exported to the US that are valued at over $800 (the US import tax threshold) are still subject to tariffs of 0% to 37.5%, with the typical rate being 5.63%. ParcelHero’s USA page gives full details on Customs advice, sending food, prohibited items, etc.

‘The US is ParcelHero’s biggest individual overseas market. As such, we would love to see an increase in green choices for transatlantic shipments. For expert advice on UK-US shipping, including frequently asked questions (FAQs), help for exports and prohibited items details, see: