The containership – how big: What are the prospects for MalaccaMax?



Zia H. Rizvi, P. Eng., Consulting Engineer, Toronto, Canada


The chronology of containerisation since McLean’s first trial run in April, 1956, using Ideal X, a converted tanker, is nothing but impressive. Even more impressive is the evolution and growth in the size of purpose-built fully cellular containerships, which arrived on the scene in 1968. As more and more fully cellular ships were constructed, they were categorised into ‘generations’.


• First generation – 1968. Maximum capacity 1,200 TEU.

• Second generation – 1969. Maximum capacity 1,750 TEU.

• Third generation – 1971. Maximum capacity 3,000 TEU. The third generation culminated with the commission of Hapag Lloyd’s 3,050 TEU Frankfurt Express in 1981.

• With the fourth generation of US Line’s 4,458 TEU ‘Jumbo-Econ’ ships in 1984-85, the containership reached the maximum permissible dimension for transit  through the Panama Canal. The first containership American New York made the headlines for her drum beat of ‘around the world in 84 days’.

• Following soon were APL’s five 4,340 TEU containerships, which broke the Panamax barrier.

• Although the first post-Panamax containership, APL Truman, was put in service in 1988, it was not until 1995 that major shipping lines followed the example of APL. At this point containership size started rising by leaps and bounds.

The rise was led by Regina Maersk, the then flagship of Maersk Sealand, which broke the nautical architecture barrier in 1996. In doing so, it became the first containership capable of carrying over 6,000 containers. This amazing new ‘state-of-the art’ containership was the first in the world to have a 17th row of containers across the deck and 14 under deck. It was also the first containership in the world longer than 300m.

• In 1997 Maersk embarked on 19 S-series of 6,600 TEU ships beginning with Sovereign Maersk. The S-series were later rated at 7,226 TEU. Maersk held the title of owning the biggest containerships for six years up to 2002.

• In 2003, OOCL stole the show by ordering twelve 8,063 TEU containerships, with OOCL Shenzhen the first ship launched on April 30, 2003.

• In 2004, China Shipping’s CSCL Asia, at 8,468 TEU, became the largest operating containership.

• In 2005, the two sister ships MSC Pamela and MSC Susanna (9,200 TEU) were launched, and were the biggest ships operating to the end of the year.

• As if this was not enough, on September 1, 2006, Maersk took the delivery of Emma Maersk with an 11,000 TEU capacity. Many analysts believe this figure to be much greater, possibly approaching 15,000 TEU. This is currently the largest containership in the world. In total 8 of these ships are operating this year.

• According to an April 23, 2008 press release, COSCON has ordered eight 13,350 TEU capacity vessels. Most probably these would be also of 15,000 TEU capacity.

To sum up, today the maximum size of containership has gone from a mere 58 trailers on the spar deck in 1956 to 15,000 TEU today (Figure 1). Yet, the shipping industry is still in expansion mode and building big is in favour. Emma Maersk has reached Suezmax size, superseding all megaship designs of this size.

The only design left on the drawing board for bigger ships is the MalaccaMax of 18,000 TEU, sponsored by the professor-student team of Prof. Nico Wijnolst and student Marco Scholtens at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands (Figure 2). The question asked now is: what next?

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