Megaships: The \"Berth\" of Girth

As ocean vessels increase in size, the shipping industry prepares for the unique challenges the "megaships" of the future will present.

Ports already struggling to accommodate larger vessels are having to face even more daunting news. According to a study by Lloyd's Register of London, ultra-large vessels with a capacity limit of 12,500 TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) are currently in the design stage, and it's only a matter of time until these "megaships" are sailing the seas. Driving the megaships' production are the savings in operational costs that these vessels are estimated to afford.

Dr. Asaf Ashar of the National Ports and Waterways Institute envisions vessels with a capacity as large as 15,000 TEU being built by the end of the decade. Such seafaring giants would require specially constructed offshore ports that would be located strategically along the equator to maximize their economic advantage. Furthermore, designers in the Netherlands are currently planning a 1,300 ft, 18,000 TEU behemoth that they've dubbed the Malaccamax.

Lloyd's Register, in an attempt to forecast the challenges such developments present, has taken into account the seaworthiness of the projected vessels, current port sizes and the economic feasibility of building ships that would dwarf anything currently afloat. David Tozer, LR's senior surveyor, believes that terminal access might be a challenge for megaships. Certain terminals, especially those located along river waterways, would be strictly off-limits.

Another physical restraint Tozer has considered is crane reach. Currently, only two gantry cranes exist that can handle the breadth of such vessels. However, the study finds that facilities are rapidly working on providing this equipment and by the end of this year, there will be 16 cranes worldwide large enough to service megaships a significant increase.

The depth that these megaships will require is another issue for ports to consider. A fully laden 12,500 TEU vessel requires a port depth of 485 feet. Presently, only 17 terminals exist that offer this kind of accessibility. The study forecasts this number to rise to 25 by 2003. A ship as large as the projected size of the Netherlands's Malaccamax would require the Suez Canal to be deepened by 145 feet, a project that would cost in the range of $165 million.

It is Tozer's belief that the 12,500 TEU megaship will be used specifically for Asia-Europe, transpacific and Pendulum trade lanes. Other trade lanes, the North Atlantic for example, simply do not have large enough cargo volumes to warrant megaship traffic. As for those ports that will need to accommodate the new breed of giant vessels, Tozer thinks that they will have only until 2004, when he predicts the first 12,500 TEU megaships will be introduced.

Source: Big Gets Bigger
Ken Cottril
Traffic World

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