Tag: Greenwich Maritime Institute
Lest we forget? The Merchant Navy in the First World War
Dr Chris Ware
What do we remember in this year which marks the centennial of the outbreak of the First World War, a lost generation struggling in the mud of the Western Front?
Perhaps the battle of Jutland 1916, more deadly to reputations of the commanders than the enemy; however, how many think of the comings and goings of trade, and the merchant service in general; it will be remember albeit by a few specialist historians, yet without it, the Western Front would have crumbled, not just because of the lack of men from around the Colonies and Dominions, but because arms, ammunition and food, circulated the globe by sea.
Only in 1915, and then again 1917, when Germany used the U-boats to attack merchant shipping would it come out from hiding in plain sight. No one diminishes the toll that war on land, took, wherever in the world it might be, yet without the silent and omnipresent merchant marine many if not most of those who served in far off lands, or the Western Front, would not even have got there let alone been equipped to fight or feed and watered, they were reliant on the true expression of British sea power, the Merchant Navy.
Role of robots in maritime search and rescue explored
Robots and autonomous underwater vehicles are playing an increasing role in commercial maritime and offshore oil and gas operations for such things as oil and gas exploration, subsea work, repairs and maintenance, and hull inspections. The future will usher in an expanded role for robots and unmanned vehicles. DNV GL, for example, recently unveiled a concept vessel for short sea shipping called the ReVolt that is fully battery powered and unmanned.
The NATO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE), part of the NATO Science and Technology Organization, recently held sea trials that successfully tested and demonstrated the integration of robotic platforms, including Unmanned Surface Vehicles and Unmanned Aerial Systems for Search and Rescue (SAR) operations. The sea trials, from October 13 to 24, were held as part of ICARUS (Integrated Components for Assisted Rescue and Unmanned Search operations) project, which is funded by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (FP7).
Since 2012, ICARUS has been developing advanced robotic platforms that can support crisis intervention teams in detecting, locating and rescuing humans in danger, in maritime and land disaster scenarios.
Unmanned Search and Rescue (SAR) devices offer a valuable tool for saving lives and for speeding SAR operations.
This is crucial for maritime incidents where survival times are short and SAR teams can be exposed to considerable risks.
For such events, Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs), capable of transporting SAR equipment and deploying first aid devices, can greatly improve the efficiency of operations.
Existing technologies have been improved to strengthen resilience, and new developments include robotic vehicles that can deploy autonomous life saving capsules, using mission planning software, new sensors and new data acquisition capabilities to detect and track survivors.
Experts in maritime robotics and target recognition, CMRE is collaborating with the Laboratory of Microgrids and Electric Vehicles, Portugal, in the framework of ICARUS to enhance the autonomy of robotic surface vehicles and is also involved in the integration of the main USV into the ICARUS Command, Control and Interface (C2I) station collaborative operations with aerial robots.
The ICARUS project is managed by a consortium of 24 public and private partners from 10 countries.
One of the central objectives of the project is to bridge the gap between robotic laboratories and the application of novel robotic devices to real-life situations in the field, paving the way for cutting-edge technologies to be used in Search and Rescue operations.
In 2015, the technologies developed during the ICARUS project will be tested in two scenarios, one a simulated earthquake exercise in Belgium and the other a maritime accident in Portugal.
Source – www.marinelog.com
An exhilarating expansion: the world merchant ship fleet’s heady growth over the past decade
Visiting Lecturer, Greenwich Maritime Institute and MD, Bulk Shipping Analysis
Vigorous enlargement has been one of the most prominent features of the world fleet of merchant (commercial) ships in recent years. During the past decade, from 2003 to 2013, the entire fleet almost doubled in size. It was a remarkable achievement involving vast capital investment. Shipowners in many countries participated, although just a small number of shipowning nations remained at the top and together continued to be the dominant players.
Bulk carriers, tankers and container ships comprise the majority of the global merchant ship fleet’s cargo capacity. Much of the growth has been concentrated in the three sectors. Other significant vessel types are gas carriers, multi-purpose and general cargo ships, ro-ro (roll-on/roll-off) vessels, car carriers, refrigerated vessels, cruise ships and offshore service vessels: some of these categories also have seen notable increases.
Expansion in the fleet as a whole has decelerated in the past few years. But it remains brisk and there are clear signs of a continuing upwards trend, although prospects for different ship types vary widely. What are the salient points and why did such a huge enlargement happen in a relatively short period? This article examines the changes and looks at key influences and indications of future developments.
At any point in time, focusing on what happened in the ten years just completed is often a statistical convenience. It is a period of sufficient length to enable trends and patterns to be identified which would not necessarily be apparent in a shorter period. The 2003 to 2013 decade proved especially notable, however. Precisely within this timescale, annual growth in the world fleet of ships accelerated greatly to a rapid average rate, compared with many preceding years when relatively slow increases were recorded.
By the end of last year, the capacity of the world merchant ship fleet, measured in deadweight tonnes, had reached 1,690 million dwt, according to statistics compiled by Clarksons Research. Ten years earlier, at the end of 2003, the total was 873m dwt. The difference between the two figures, 817m dwt, represented a 94 percent increase, resulting from average annual 6.8 percent rises. For comparison, in the four immediately preceding years, fleet increases averaged 2.6 percent annually, and for three years before then the average was 1.3 percent.
Looking at individual fleet sectors classified by ship type, it is clear that growth rates varied quite widely, reflecting differing circumstances (especially trade trends). Among the three largest sectors, comprising at the end of last year well over four-fifths of the world fleet’s entire deadweight capacity, bulk carrier and container ship fleet growth was the fastest. Over the past decade average annual expansion in both categories was about 9 percent. For tankers, a much less rapid but still brisk rate of just over 5 percent was seen. Within the group of other ship types, a noteworthy performance was achieved by the LNG (liquefied natural gas) carrier fleet, averaging 12 percent annual rises.
What were the main influences? Annual capacity changes, upwards or downwards, are mainly caused by the balance between two elements. Firstly, the volume of new ship capacity being introduced, known as newbuilding deliveries. Secondly, the volume of scrapping (recycling) of old or obsolete, inefficient vessels. Ship losses resulting from accidents are a very minor influence. Another element, which has been prominent in some past years, is conversions from one ship type to another, such as tankers converted to bulk carriers.
Within the entire world merchant fleet of all ship types, newbuilding deliveries from shipbuilding yards started to gain momentum in 2003, when 55m dwt was recorded, compared with 46-51m dwt in each of the previous three years. There then followed a remarkably strong acceleration, peaking eight years later in 2011 when 167m dwt was seen, based on Clarksons data. It was a lagged response to the massive ordering which had occurred earlier, with new ships being delivered several years after orders had been placed. Subsequently an abrupt precipitous fall occurred, to 109m dwt in 2013.
Scrapping began to decline in 2003, when 28m dwt of all types of ship was recorded, slightly below each of the two preceding years. In 2005 to 2007 it was very low, at 6-7m dwt annually. Then there was a rapid acceleration to 34m dwt in 2009 and a peak 59m dwt in 2012. This pattern demonstrated again how quickly, sometimes immediately, demolition sales respond to changing shipping market conditions and perceptions (latterly, a sharp deterioration). The scrapping total last year fell back to 48m dwt.
Looking at world fleet composition by shipowning nationality, it is evident that throughout the 2003 to 2013 period, four shipowning nations were dominant: Greece, Japan, China and Germany. Together they consistently comprised almost one-half of the world total, based on UNCTAD statistics. At the decade’s beginning, fleets owned by investors operating in these countries (identified according to the location of the true controlling interest, where the parent company is situated) comprised 46-47 percent of global fleet deadweight tonnage. A few years later the four countries’ proportion rose to 49-50 percent, where it has been maintained.
Although the aggregate proportion changed only slightly over this ten-year period, there were changes in individual countries’ world fleet shares. Top contributor Greece’s share declined after 2003, from 20 percent down to the current 15 percent. Japan’s second position rose by a couple of percentage points to peak at 16 percent, from where it has fallen back to about 14 percent in the past two years. China’s share rose solidly, doubling from 6 percent in 2003 to 12 percent in 2013, rapidly overtaking Germany in the past two years to become the third largest shipowning country.
Ships’ tonnage statistics, whatever measurement is chosen, do not provide an accurate picture of the cargo-carrying work or transportation service performed, however. What is revealed by tonnage statistics is only how much weight or volume can be lifted by ships at a particular point in time, a snapshot view. Actual cargo-carrying work done over a period depends upon ships’ productivity: how efficiently they are operated. That requires much more complicated calculations and there are no comprehensive statistics available for the global fleet as whole.
The amount of cargo carried by an individual ship or fleet of ships within any period, such as twelve months, reflects numerous factors. These factors vary greatly over time and among different trades. Periods when the ship is moving ‘in ballast’ (empty) between loaded voyages, a typical feature of employment in the oil or dry bulk trades, vary substantially. Loaded and ballast voyage duration reflects a ship’s average speed, which is influenced by market conditions and can be modified by the operator. Slow-steaming at below ‘normal’ speed drastically reduces a vessel’s carrying capacity in a specific time period. Delays, often caused by congestion, and idle waiting time in ports or at canals also affects voyage duration. Some cargoes do not fill the entire ship (part-loading). Also, ships periodically are unavailable because of maintenance and dry-docking.
All these well-known aspects influence how productively a ship is employed. Only very rough calculations can be made, relating seaborne trade volumes within each sector to relevant ship deadweight capacity, deriving a ratio: cargo tonnes per deadweight tonne. But this ratio is not always a reliable guide. One main reason is that it is sometimes impossible to identify accurately from available figures which ship types are carrying the cargoes. For instance, large quantities of many minor dry bulk shipments may not be carried by bulk carriers. Consequently, when transport capacity statistics are required, ships’ deadweight (or another tonnage measurement) is usually used, despite imperfections as a measure of cargo carrying capability.
Capital investment in new ships is an indicator of fleet growth potential. During the past five years, 2009 to 2013, global investment in newbuilding vessels (based on Clarksons Research data) is estimated at $475 billion. Last year’s total was the highest annual amount, within the period, at $127bn. For individual shipowning countries, this indicator of capacity being added is only partial, because second-hand acquisitions, often a sizeable fleet development component, are not included.
Among the largest shipowning countries already identified, owners based in China spent the biggest sum on new ships in the five-year period, at about $53bn, although owners in Greece were almost at that level, with just under $52bn. Japan’s total was nearly $33bn, while Germany’s figure was much lower at about $14bn.
These enormous investment commitments are reflected in orderbook volumes. Ship orders of all types at shipbuilding yards around the world, measured at year-end, reached a peak at the end of 2008 at 619m dwt, which was more than 400 percent higher when compared with the volume on order six years earlier. Typically, the largest part of an orderbook is scheduled for completion within the following twenty-four months, but orders often stretch out over three or four years ahead. A significant comparison also, emphasising the vast extent of the very high end-2008 peak total, is that it was the equivalent of 51 percent of the existing world fleet’s size at that time.
Five years later, at the end of 2013, the world orderbook had shrunk by almost half to 318m dwt, representing a comparatively low 19% of the now much larger existing fleet. Over the period of five years there had been additional ordering, but newbuilding deliveries from the greater earlier orderbook had outpaced contracts added, resulting in orderbook shrinking. Contracting in 2009 to 2013 had added 537m dwt, while newbuilding deliveries totalled 705m dwt. Also contributing to the orderbook reduction were many cancellations and postponements.
Full speed ahead, or slow-steaming?
Some spectacular new ships have joined the fleet in the past few years. One prominent example is the ‘Triple-E’ series of container ships being introduced by Danish company Maersk, each capable of carrying 18,270 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit, the standard capacity measurement used in the sector). These giants, 20 of which have been ordered, are the largest container ships constructed so far, more than twice the size of the biggest container ships existing only a few years ago. Another example is the vast 35-ship fleet of 400,000 deadweight tonnes ‘Valemax’ ore carriers which Brazilian mining company Vale has almost completed introducing, including some chartered long-term from other shipowners. These goliath vessels carry more than double the cargo of a typical large 180,000 dwt capesize bulk carrier commonly used in iron ore trades.
The Maersk and Vale ships, and many others, have been designed for use in specific trades where huge volumes of cargo moving, and extensive contractual commitments, probably guarantee more or less full employment over their lifetimes. By contrast, a great number of ships, especially those built for the bulk trades, do not have long-term employment arranged, and their profitability remains heavily dependent upon evolving shipping (freight) market conditions. What are their prospects?
To begin answering this question, a brief look at some fundamental global shipping market features is needed. It is evident that shipping markets are cyclical, reflecting a continuous adjustment process, which aims to balance demand for seaborne transportation services with the supply of services. One key aspect is how participants attempt to anticipate events. Dynamic players try keeping one step ahead, enabling maximum benefits to be derived from any changes in market circumstances, upwards, downwards or sideways. Considerable risk-taking is often involved, based in many cases upon deep and detailed analysis and sound assessments of the interaction of market influences or, in other cases, based upon sheer speculation.
Reflecting shipping market characteristics, particularly in the bulk sectors, decisions on massive capital investments can be made and implemented relatively quickly. Compared with major capital expenditure in other industries, shipping investment often does not entail numerous years of planning and obtaining necessary official approvals. In the bulk trades investment can be a virtually instantaneous activity. That perception of the decision-making process may not be entirely accurate, however, because quick decisions are often based upon lengthy continuous assessments of prospects.
How these characteristics profoundly affect events has been illustrated dramatically in the past few years. In 2009, immediately after global shipping markets plummeted, ordering of new ships also fell steeply to about one-fifth of the volume (in deadweight tonnage) seen at the peak two years earlier when markets were very strong. Then, in the next year, 2010, despite an already vast orderbook resulting from the long previous freight market boom, many shipowners sensed market recovery. Newbuilding orders in that year bounced back rapidly, increasing by almost three-fold. Several years later, in 2013, another huge ordering surge was unleashed when many owners had renewed optimism that the long-awaited market recovery was approaching. The 2010 ordering surge is already having a large impact on global fleet growth, with resulting additional excess capacity delaying the rebalancing of supply with demand.
Currently, over-capacity is still a problem in the three main sectors – bulk carriers, tankers and container ships – to varying degrees. It seems entirely possible that this feature could persist for some time ahead. Continuing a trend seen since 2008, the gap between demand for ships, and the supply of ships, is still wide, leading to mainly subdued markets with low freight rates. Global seaborne trade’s overall growth and demand for shipping services has largely recovered from the setback following the 2008 global financial crisis and its aftermath, an exceedingly severe world recession. Trade has been increasing at a robust pace. But the world fleet of ships and transportation capacity provided (mostly) has been expanding too quickly.
Maritime piracy: Why definitions matter
Industry stakeholders and government officials from various countries met in London on 23 and 24 September to discuss maritime piracy in in West Africa under an inative organised by the America-based Oceans Beyond Piracy. With piratical act in the Gulf of Guinea rendering these waters some of the most dangerous in the world, threatening economic and security imperatives in the region of geostratefic importance; this issue was the focus of the discussion.
Following the meetings, in a conversation with one government official in attendance, the question of defining piracy was raised and the wide range of definitions varying in scope were highlighted. It was, however, decided that these interpretations had sufficient commonality for any fine -tuning to be set aside.
This, in my opinion, is an oversight and one that challenges how the problem may be approached. To provide background here, it is worth noting how piracy is defined, and why events in West Africa occur on the periphery of this definition.
International law under Article 101 of the United Nations Law of the Sea of 1982 holds that piracy is any violence, detention or depredation that take place on the high seas, is perpetrated for private gain, and gain, and occurs between at least two vessels. Much of this definition is based on law used to combat piracy during the so -called golden age in the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as an interpretation emanating for the Harvard Draft, compiled by academics in 1932.
In West Africa acts of piracy predominately take place in territorial waters, and have been perpetrated for motives that enmesh private gain, through organised criminal activity, with political grounds and forms of protest. On this basis, and unless expressly defined as piracy under the domestic law of the country in whose waters these acts take place, the internationally accepted definition can really not be applied here. In short, the use of the word piracy to describe these acts is mostly inaccurate and constitutes a misnomer. Nonetheless, scholars, government institutions, oil majors and shipping companies tend to refer to acts of robbery- at – sea and associated crimes as piracy, often for ease of reference.
While this approach make the phenomenon perhaps easier to categorize, what it fails to acknowledge is that the acts in West African waters present distinct model of piracy, which, although having similarities to other manifestations of the phenomenon, presents itself in a unique way. Of course, the word that we used to describe things are of utmost importance because they inform the way in which we understand them, and also often attach automatic assumptions and expectations. The key to being able to address piracy successfully is then in understanding differences within the phenomenon and appreciating the idiosyncrasies at play in various maritime domains.
Questions of piracy are further complicated by a dearth of domestic legislation in affected West African countries, which stems from sea-blindness- the failure to appreciate the sea as a political and economic domain that requires securitising. Not only does a legal framework often not exist under which prosecutions can take place, the lack of such framework underscore a shortfall in understanding amongst the various officials whose job it now becomes to tackle maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea. Moreover, the international definition is this also inadequate to serve as guidance for these countries in building their own understanding and addressing piratical acts in their territorial waters.
As this is a problem that is affecting numerous countries within the Gulf in Guinea sub- region (although mainly emanating from Nigeria), states are also likely to take different routes to solving this definitional problem when attempting to construct framework for countering piracy . While there is a regional appetite for cooperation amongst states, this may in itself present a stumbling block in what routes regional platforms may have for their collective security.
There is an impression that due to the difficult nature of the task of fine- tuning definitions to be more inclusive of various manifestations of piracy, alongside the struggle in achieving consensus, it is considered too onerous a task, and one for which attendees at these September meetings simply did not have the enthusiasm.
The question of definition may seem a minor element of the issue at hand and consideration of being clearer on the words we use may be considered trivial, but is it important that there at least be some attempt at getting these basics right – once an understanding on what the problem, and could present an opportunity for streamlining of definition and method, bolstering a coppertative approach, which will go a long way towards achieving a shared vision on immediate and long- term actions to be taken.
Nigeria and Piracy: the Evolution of a Complex Problem; A seminar by Lisa Otto
Hosted by Lisa Otto
Lisa Otto holds a MA in International Peace and Security from King’s College London’s War Studies Department, which she achieved with Distinction, as well as BA and BA Honours degrees from the University of Johannesburg. She is now pursuing doctoral studies in Politics under the auspices of the SARChI Chair in African Diplomacy. and is currently conducting visiting research at the GMI. Her doctoral study investigates the evolution of maritime piracy in Nigeria.
Lisa’s research interests include non-traditional threats to security, particularly in Africa, as well as African foreign policy and engagement at the regional and international levels. Before returning to UJ to begin her doctorate, Lisa worked with the Institute for Security Studies and the South African Institute of International Affairs. She has also worked on projects with Transparency International, the African Union, Corruption Watch, and the European Commission, and has conducted field research in Finland, South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique and Ethiopia.
Nigeria and Piracy: the Evolution of a Complex Problem
While piracy is certainly not a new predicament off West Africa’s coast, it is one that has certainly become more punctuated in recent years, particularly off the shores of Nigeria. Piracy there challenges our traditional understanding of the crime, taking on a more domestic nature, and one that tends to centre on the region’s thriving oil industry. It is with the legacy of this industry too that it finds its origins, which, enmeshed with defining features of the Nigerian state (corruption, neo-patrimonialism, poverty, and criminality), has come to pose a significant threat to economic and security imperatives in Nigeria and the sub-region. Actors tasked with tackling the phenomenon have been implicated in the crime itself, rendering it an exceedingly complex problem to solve. This presentation will unpack the nature of piracy in Nigeria (and by extension West Africa), offering insight into underlying causal factors of the crime, how it plays out on these troubled waters, and what efforts are being taken to bring it to an end.
For more information on getting to the venue click here
The twenty-second New Researchers in Maritime History Conference will be hosted by the University
of Greenwich in the historic Old Royal Naval College. The conference provides a unique opportunity
for emerging scholars to present their work to a supportive audience in one of the world’s most
iconic maritime settings.
Applications to present will be accepted from both research degree students and by independent
scholars. The organisers welcome contributions that address all aspects of maritime history.
Those wishing to offer a paper should please complete the from http://tinyurl.com/qglnfg5. The deadline is 12th January 2015.
Anyone interested in attending the conference without presenting a paper is warmly invited to register via our booking site . http://newresearchersmaritimehistory2015.eventbrite.co.uk
The registration fee includes a welcome reception including keynote address on the Friday evening;
lunch and refreshments throughout the day on the Saturday plus conference materials.
£35 standard fee; £30 student fee; presenters attend for free.
Contact the conference secretariat at: +44 (0)20 8331 7612 or email@example.com
Oasis of the Seas: The world’s largest cruise ship comes to the UK
The world’s largest cruise ship arrived in the UK today for the first time.
The £800m Oasis Of The Seas sailed into Southampton at 10am on Wednesday in dense fog, welcomed by a crowd of hundreds and helicopters circling overhead.
Weighing 225,282 tonnes, the 1,187ft ship is longer than London’s The Shard is tall, and at 208ft wide, larger than the wingspan of a Boeing 747.
Spread across its 16 decks is an outdoor park with more than 12,000 real plants and trees, an 82-foot long zip wire, and the largest pool on the seas.
There is also a 750-seater arena, ice rink, surf machines, a high-diving performance venue and an elevating bar.
Some other interesting facts :
but how big can these vessels get.
Already in Venice we have seen the government ban the docking of these large vessels whilst they investigate the environmental impact on the city.
Overall, the cruise ships oceanic produce at least 17% of the total emissions of nitrogen oxides, contributing to more than a quarter of total emissions of nitrogen oxides in port cities and coastal areas.
In addition, waste from cruise ships adversely affect the resilience of marine ecosystems, destroying coral reefs (Source: “Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in the Tourism Sector: Frameworks, Tools and Practices” by United Nations Environment Program, together with the University of Oxford, p.102)
If you ever choose to embark on one of these marine giants, you must know that your CO2 emissions can be up to 1000 times more than a train journey. (Source: “Climate Change and Tourism. Responding to global challenges’, World Tourism Organization and United Nations Environment Programme, 2008, pp.. 37, 134)
Greenwich Forum presents The Blue Economy – The UK Opportunity Maritime Technology and Sustainability conference
Thursday 20 November 2014
HQS Wellington, Temple Stairs, Victoria Embankment, London WC2R 2PN
The Blue Economy – the extensive interdependent range of economic activities that depend on the sea – offers huge potential for sustainable economic growth. This has been identified in the EC ‘Blue Growth’ strategy, with an emphasis on marine knowledge, spatial planning and integrated maritime surveillance. In January 2014 the Commission launched Horizon 2020, the EU’s largest ever research and innovation programme. Within the UK, current government initiatives to promote marine and maritime growth include the Marine Industries Leadership Council with representatives from the main sectors. Indications of rising international awareness of the importance of blue growth, include the action agenda for the Global Oceans Commission (2013-), the activities of the Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts and Islands (2002-), and the five-day Global Oceans Action Summit for Food Security and Blue Growth (The Hague, April 2014).
Taking as a starting point the three elements of the EC Blue Growth strategy, the Blue Economy symposium will examine these in relation to future UK opportunities in marine/maritime exploration, exploitation, energy and enterprise. What are the gaps in marine knowledge, spatial planning requirements and surveillance capacity that UK technology and skill can fill? What is needed to ensure that public policy and private interests combine to benefit the UK’s Blue Economy?
Coffee and Registration
Welcome and Introduction
Professor Sarah Palmer, Chair of Greenwich Forum
|09:30||Keynote Address: Simon Reddy, Global Ocean Commission|
|10:00||Theme 1: Exploration
Professor Ed Hill, National Oceanography Centre
Koen Verbruggen, Geological Survey Ireland
Robert Ward, International Hydrographic Organisation
|11:45||Theme 2: Exploitation
Dr Philomène Verlaan, IMarEST
John Breslin, Smartbay Ireland
Dr Adrian Glover, Natural History Museum TBC
|14:00||Theme 3: Energy
Michael Cowling, Crown Estate
Martin Wright, Aurora Ventures Ltd.
Oil and Gas UK TBC
|15:45||Theme 4: Enterprise
Gregory Darling, Gardline/Marine Industries Leadership Council
Martin Hampson, Satellite Applications Catapult
|17:00||Keynote Address: The Rt Hon Matthew Hancock, Minister of State for Business and Enterprise|
|17:30||Concluding Comments and Drinks Reception|
End of Event
to book a place click here
How much bigger can container ships get?
The world’s cargo ships are getting big, really big. No surprise, perhaps, given the volume of goods produced in Asia and consumed in Europe and the US. But are these giant symbols of the world’s trade imbalance growing beyond all reason?
What is blue, a quarter of a mile long, and taller than London’s Olympic stadium?
The answer – this year’s new class of container ship, the Triple E. When it goes into service this June, it will be the largest vessel ploughing the sea.Each will contain as much steel as eight Eiffel Towers and have a capacity equivalent to 18,000 20-foot containers (TEU).If those containers were placed in Times Square in New York, they would rise above billboards, streetlights and some buildings.Or, to put it another way, they would fill more than 30 trains, each a mile long and stacked two containers high. Inside those containers, you could fit 36,000 cars or 863 million tins of baked beans.
he Triple E will not be the largest ship ever built. That accolade goes to an “ultra-large crude carrier” (ULCC) built in the 1970s, but all supertankers more than 400m (440 yards) long were scrapped years ago, some after less than a decade of service. Only a couple of shorter ULCCs are still in use. But giant container ships are still being built in large numbers – and they are still growing.
It’s 25 years since the biggest became too wide for the Panama Canal. These first “post-Panamax” ships, carrying 4,300 TEU, had roughly quarter of the capacity of the current record holder – the 16,020 TEU Marco Polo, launched in November by CMA CGM.
In the shipping industry there is already talk of a class of ship that would run aground in the Suez canal, but would just pass through another bottleneck of international trade – the Strait of Malacca, between Malaysia and Indonesia. The “Malaccamax” would carry 30,000 containers.
The current crop of ultra-large container vessels can navigate the Suez – just – but they are only able to dock at a handful of the world’s ports. No American harbour is equipped to handle them.
The sole purpose of the soon-to-be-launched Triple E ships will be to run what’s called a pendulum service for Maersk – the largest shipping company in the world – between Asia and Europe.
They arrive in Europe full, and when they leave a significant proportion of containers carry nothing but air. (At any given moment about 20% of all containers on the world’s seas are empty.)
“Ships have been getting bigger for many years,” says Paul Davey from Hutchison Ports, which operates Felixstowe in the UK, one of the likely ports of call of the Triple E.
“The challenge for ports is to invest ahead of the shipping capacity coming on-stream, and to try and be one step ahead of the game.”
Overcapacity in the world’s ports means there is huge competition for business. Operators cannot afford to get left behind, says Marc Levinson, author of The Box – How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger.
“The ports are placed in a difficult competitive position here because the carriers are basically saying to them, ‘If you don’t expand – if you don’t build new wharves and deepen the harbours and get high speed cranes, we’ll take our business someplace else.'”
These big beasts of the sea present ports with other challenges too.
Ship owners also want vessels to be unloaded and loaded within 24 hours, which has various knock-on effects. More space is needed to store the containers in the harbour, and onward connections by road, rail and ship need to be strengthened to cope with the huge surge in traffic.
Felixstowe, which handles 42% of the UK’s container trade, has 58 train movements a day, but plans to double that after it opens a third rail terminal later this year.
Bigger vessels also behave differently in the water. The wash created by a large ship can be enough to cause other ships moored in a harbour to break free – just as the passenger liner SS City of New York did in 1912 when the Titanic set out on her maiden voyage.
“These days with the increase in traffic, we experience this more and more often,” says Marco Pluijm, a port engineer working for Bechtel. “A simple thing you can do is just slow ships down and add some tug boats for better manoeuvring – but that all has cost implications.”
There are currently 163 ships on the world’s seas with a capacity over 10,000 TEU – but 120 more are on order, including Maersk’s fleet of 20 Triple Es.
Bearing in mind that the carbon footprint of international shipping is roughly equivalent to that of aviation – some 2.7% of the world’s man-made CO2 emissions in the year 2000, according to the International Maritime Organization – the prospect of these leviathans carving up the oceans in ever greater numbers is likely to be a source of concern for green consumers.
Maersk, however, argues that the Triple E is the most environmentally friendly container ship yet. (The three Es in the name stand for economy of scale, energy efficiency and environmentally improved.)
Although it will only be three metres longer and three metres wider than the 15,500-TEU Emma Maersk, its squarer profile allows it to carry 16% more cargo.
Re-designed engines, an improved waste-heat recovery system, and a speed cap at 23 knots – down from 25 – will produce 50% less carbon dioxide per container shipped than average on the Asia-Europe route, Maersk calculates.
“When you get bigger ships, you can more efficiently carry more cargo, so the carbon footprint you get per tonne of cargo is smaller,” says Unni Einemo from the online trade publication Sustainable Shipping. “So on that basis, big is beautiful.”
To achieve maximum fuel efficiency, however, a ship has to be fully loaded.
“They are massive ships, and a really big ship running half-full is probably less energy-efficient overall than a smaller ship running with a full set of containers,” says Einemo.
Maersk’s Triple Es will be going into service at a time when growth in the volume of goods to be shipped is comparatively low – some experts don’t expect it to pick up until 2015. But the world’s container fleet capacity is expected to grow by 9.5% this year alone, as Maersk and others receive the ships they ordered years ago.
Some of the extra capacity will be absorbed in the new practice of slow steaming – industry-speak for sailing more slowly. Sailing at 12-15 knots instead of 20-24 knots brings enormous savings on fuel – but it does mean that extra ships are required to transport the same volume of goods in the same timescale.
Maersk are counting on container trade continuing to grow at 5-6% – less than half the growth rate of seven years ago, but enough to recoup the company’s investment in the Triple Es, which cost $190m (£123m) each.
“The history of container shipping involves ship lines taking huge gambles,” says Marc Levinson, who points to a trend for some American and European companies to move manufacturing back from Asia.
“There are a lot of people in the shipping industry who aren’t sure that Maersk is on the right track,” he says.
Jean-Paul Rodrigue at Hofstra University believes that big container ships like the Triple E will prove their value on specific trade routes, nonetheless.
“Each time a new generation comes along, there’s the argument ‘Oh is this going a little too far this time – is there enough port trade to justify this?'” he says.
“But each time the ship class was able to put itself in the system and provide a pretty good service.”
Marco Pluijm was interviewed on the BBC World Service programme The Forum.
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