Mega ships: positive asset or terminals’ worst nightmare?



Yvo Saanen, managing director, TBA, the Netherlands



The trend of ever-increasing ship size has not passed unnoticed in the last decade or so. We have probably not yet seen the end of this development and are now seeing 20,000 twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) ships on the drawing tables. Driven by the desire to reduce operating costs (of which fuel costs are the most relevant), and fostered by overloading of ship capacity in the market, those larger ships also sail much slower. Speeds in the range of 20 – 25 knots were commonplace 5 years ago, these speeds now have dropped to 15 – 17 knots.

Although the reduction of fuel costs are obvious – see for instance works of Dijkstra and Notteboom, reporting a reduction of 23 percent per container slot comparing an 12,000 TEU vessel to a 4,000 TEU vessel. [Dijkstra, A (2008). ‘Tradeoff between handling and hauling speed in liner shipping with increasing cargo volumes’, Msc thesis, Groningen, The Netherlands, Rijks Universiteit Groningen. Notteboom, T (2004). ‘Container Shipping and Ports: An Overview. Review of Network Economics’, 3, pp 86-106.] A Financial Times article reported Maersk’s Triple E Class (18,000 TEU) to be 26 percent more cost efficient than the current E class (15,000 TEU). [Wright, R (2011). ‘Big Ships:  Container lines reach for scale’, Financial times.] And recent research into supply chain costs indicates that this is not obvious for the entire supply chain. [Streng, M. (2012). ‘Slow steaming: an economic assessment of lowering sailing speeds on a supply chain level’, Master Thesis Urban, Port and Transport Economics, Erasmus University Rotterdam.]…

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