The effect of mega-ships
In the contemporary age it is impossible to open a container shipping or operator business magazine without reading articles about the mega-ships that have entered into the business in the last few years – or the even bigger containerships of 15,000+ TEU that are on order and are set to be delivered in the coming years. Most major ports are telling us that they are ready to handle these giants but is it actually true? Yes, harbour basins and approach channels have been deepened to 17 metres and the STS crane dimensions are – in theory – sufficient in height with 50+ metres under the spreader and an outreach of 25 rows wide to operate on mega-ships.
Yet at the same time, what has happened with the terminals that will handle the mega-ships? Mostly not much has been changed in terminals. On average berth productivity is still at a level of 100 – 150 container berth moves per hour – even for the latest generation of semi-automated and fully-automated terminals. Crane productivity can reach 35 container moves per hour and only on rare occasions, when terminals are able to schedule a large number of STS cranes working simultaneously, they are able to achieve record productivities of 300+ berth moves per hour.
Looking at the rotation of mega-vessels, with most of them deployed on the Asia–Europe trade route, it is obvious that two factors will make the average call size in a port increase significantly. Firstly, shipping lines want to reduce the number of ports of call. In the past 12-15 ports were scheduled in a rotation but with the bigger ships this will reduce to 8-12.
This effect itself will cause an increase of around 30-50% more containers per call. Secondly, it is the increased size of the vessels themselves that will make call sizes grow. A round-trip rotation of a 14,000 TEU vessel will produce around 35,000 container moves for all ports. With the recently delivered 18-20,000 TEU vessels this…