The Big Ships: How Big Is Too Big?

The Big Ships: How Big Is Too Big?

by Cliff Lynch
1. July 2013 12:10

The Big Ships: How Big Is Too Big?

In 2015, the long-awaited expansion of the Panama Canal will be complete; and finally, the ships that have not been able to use the canal because of their size (designated as Post-Panamax) will be able to call on East and Gulf Coast ports. At present the largest vessels using the canal carry about 5,000 TEU's, but this will increase to as many as 14,000 TEU's when the Post-Panamax ships begin to move through. Up until now, the larger ships have been limited to West Coast ports or have used the Suez Canal to reach a few East Coast destinations. The major problem will be the draft of the larger vessels and some ports are finding it necessary to deepen their harbors to accommodate them.

Even before all these improvements are completed however, they won't be enough. Next month we will see the first of the Maersk Triple E ships go into service. Designated Triple E because of their design principles, "Economy of scale, Energy Efficient, and Environmentally Improved", they will be too large for the Panama Canal or any port in North America. These vessels are 1312 feet long and 194 feet wide, and have a draft of 48 feet. (The new Panama Canal lock chambers will be 1400 feet long, but only 180 feet wide.)

With a capacity of 18,000 TEU's the ships will be the most efficient in existence. They cost $190 million each, and Maersk has ordered twenty of them. According to Bloomberg Businessweek,

  • Fully loaded, a Triple E weighs 165,000 tons;
  • It will carry 18 million flat screen TV’s; and
  • It is three feet taller than the largest cruise ship.

Oh, by the way, since because of its width it has an extra row of containers, there is no crane in North America that has sufficient reach.

Obviously however, these massive ships are not being built without some purpose; and they will be put to good use in the Asia-Europe trade utilizing the Suez Canal.

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