Friday, March 4, 2011

Does Size of Containership Really Matter?

(IFW-net.com) Maersk’s new ships have been ordered from South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, and are scheduled for delivery between 2013 and 2015.The deal includes an option for 20 more such vessels, which would make it worth $5.4 billion – the largest single contract in the history of shipping.

Possibly the main reason for so many headlines about the ships, known as Triple-E vessels, is their scale: they have a capacity of 18,000teu, 16% more than the current largest vessel, Emma Maersk; they will be 400 metres long; 59 metres wide; 73 metres high; and have a draught of 16 metres.


They will be the largest ships sailing the world’s oceans. Not however the largest ever built, this was the tanker Knock Nevis, which was 458 metres long. And while the Triple-Es are 16% larger than the Emma Maersk in terms of capacity, they are only four metres longer, three metres wider and half a metre higher. The extra carrying capacity is due to their u-shaped hull, as opposed to the current v-shape of most ships today.

The ships’ environmental credentials are also impressive: the Triple-Es will produce 20% less carbon per container moved than Emma Mærsk, and 50% less than the industry average on the Asia-Europe trade lane.

This is largely due to increased economies of scale. A smaller engine will produce a lower top speed, of around 19 knots, a heat recovery system will capture and reuse energy from the engine exhaust gas for extra propulsion and they will have two propellers as well as their specially optimised u-shaped hull.

Maersk Line is also introducing a ”cradle-to-cradle passport” for the Triple-E ships. This means all the materials used to build them will be documented and mapped, so when they are retired from service, the document will ensure all the materials can be recycled or disposed of in the safest, most efficient manner.

Daryl Ridgway, Maersk customer Kuehne + Nagel’s Senior VP of sea freight for North-west Europe, believes KN could use the environmental credentials of the new ships to win business from customers concerned with the impact their supply chain has on the environment.

The economies of scale offered by the Triple-Es’ capacity should also result in cost savings. CEO of Maersk Line Eivind Kolding says the new vessels will reduce transport costs by around 20-30% per container.

But members of IFW’s LinkedIn group are questioning whether the reduced costs will be passed on to shippers.

One member, from a shipping firm, points out that freight rates are based on supply and demand, meaning bigger ships do not necessary equate to lower rates.

Kolding says the ships will only call at around three or four ports in North Europe and has named Rotterdam, Felixstowe and Bremerhaven as three potential calls. But this has caused concerns that there will be an increase in transhipment and cause congestion at the ports because of the time it will take to unload the ships – issues that could be exaggerated if other carriers follow suit and order ships of the same size.

Andrew Traill, Policy Director at the European Shippers’ Council and MD of online forum Shippers’ Voice, says: “Has anyone stopped to ask what impact these ships will have on service for those shippers whose goods will need to be transhipped?”

A shipper adds: “We can’t afford to risk waiting for connecting vessels that might be four or five days after arrival at the transhipment point. And if there is a delay to the connection, will the lines accept responsibility for claims on product we can’t use?”

Regarding delays caused by congestion, there seems to be consensus that ports will need to step-up and increase berth productivity, something Maersk Line’s General Manager of Terminal Strategy, Soren Thomsen, recently indicated was an area of concern.

On the question of whether containerships will keep getting bigger, Kolding says: “We have raised the bar again, and it is our belief that this size of ship will be the largest you will see for quite some time.

“Theoretically, you could make ships longer, but that would mean certain ports would need to expand their capacity. And making them wider would be more difficult, because container cranes today can only reach across 23 or 24 rows.”

However, he adds: “But we cannot exclude the possibility that we will be standing here in the future announcing a new record.”

By Damian Brett
(IFW-net.com)

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