The impact of ever larger vessels on terminals



Andy Lane, CTI Consultancy, Singapore Charles Moret, CTI Consultancy, Marseille, France



Since the first fully cellular container vessels of the early 1970s commenced service, we have experienced container ship capacities increasing from 2,400 TEU (240m long) to the latest generation of 18,000 TEU (400m long). In time, ship capacities could even reach 24,000 TEU (456m long). Container terminals have historically built berths to be anywhere between 300 and 360m, so it seems that the new generations of ships may have become too large for contemporary berths. This paper will consider the impact of larger vessels on terminals, analysing myth versus fact, as well as offer some ideas as to how lines and terminals can best operate moving forwards as more and more large ships characterise the appearance of the industry.

Dimensionally, how have ships evolved?

Until the mid-1990s, when lines decided to build container vessels which exceed Panama Canal (primarily width) limitations, a lot of the additional capacity created on new vessel classes was achieved through increasing the length. This resulted in long narrow ships which suffered major issues in terms of stability, bending and torsion; meaning that on some routes, for every 3 tonnes of cargo loaded, 1 tonne of ballast water was also required to be carried in addition to full fuel loads for vessel safety at sea. Since the mid-1990s, we have seen the beam of vessels increase proportionately faster than the length, and that means that in terms of TEU capacity per metre of vessel length, we have experienced a doubling over the last 18 years, from 21 to 45 TEU capacity per metre. For the next generation, we are likely to see ship length increase dramatically, but these ships will still have a higher TEU per metre.

Vessel call size developments

As per figure 1, on the assumption that overall ship utilisation has not dramatically declined in recent years, on average, between all port calls, the moves per ship call will have proportionately increased. The largest ship in service in 2001 would generate an average of 2,200 moves per call, yet the largest ship in 2013 would generate an average of 3,850 moves per call – this marks an increase of 75%. As shown in figure 2, when these numbers are put into a moves per metre metric, the increase is 6.2 to 9.8, or 57%. This appears to be validated by a disclosure from PSA-Singapore recently that it had experienced an increase in average moves per call of 67% between 2001 and 2012.

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