The rise of the super container?

The rise of the super container?
Graphic by Jan Tiedemann, Alphaliner

The world’s largest container ships are currently over 400 metres long and can carry well over 20,000 TEU. And more and more giants are being added. Especially on the intercontinental trade routes between Europe and East Asia, the use of ever larger ships is profitable due to the large cargo volumes, writes Frank Diegel CEO of Marine-Pilots.com.

Container ships grow with each new order and there seems to be no upper limit, although there are more and more critical voices concerning this development. Every quarter the shipping companies outbid each other with new records in the size of their ships, their cargo capacities and the volume of containers transported. It is easy to lose track of who is the current leader in a particular discipline.

In Dec 2019, Jan Tiedemann from Alphaliner (BRS) in Hamburg reported that DNV GL has awarded Hudong Zhonghua Shipbuilding (group) Co., Ltd. an approval in principle for the design of an LNG-powered 25,000 TEU container vessel.

Based upon the reported vessel dimensions, he reckons that the ship could actually have a capacity closer to 26,000 TEU.

The main reason for the growth of ships is economic pressure: fuel costs and fierce competition between shipping companies give an advantage to those who are able to transport containers at the lowest cost with the largest ship, according to the full article.

Frank asks where will this lead in shipping? He believes there will be a shift in transport costs from sea to land. The shipping companies are saving costs by operating ever larger ships, while on land more and more investment must be made to serve infrastructure, like lower access routes and berths for ships, larger cranes, larger intermediate storage areas, and larger transport capacities by truck, train or inland waterway vessel.

Frank says some ports have already introduced a size limit for ships because they are no longer wanting to take part in this rat race. In addition to exploding investment in land-based infrastructure to cope with the ever-growing number of containers per ship during a port call, environmental and port safety aspects are also playing an increasingly important role.

Read Frank’s full article on Marine Pilots to find out the impact on maritime pilots, effects on port operators and vessel insurers.

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