Boxships with a capacity of 26,000 TEU may be viable: industry opinion

Boxships with a capacity of 26,000 TEU may be viable: industry opinion

Building 26,000-TEUers is possible, though ship size eventually reaches a point of diminishing returns and especially on shuttle services between two ports. An opinion expressed in Maritime Executive of Fort Lauderdale indicated that such supersize ships would be too big to sail through the new, expanded Suez Canal and would be relegated to sailing a few routes such as the trans-Pacific routes between Asian and west coast American ports, as well as sailing via Cape Town.

Industry discussions have focused on alliances between ship companies that could realize the economic benefit from sailing supersize ships. To be viable, supersize ships may need to sail between major transshipment ports and interline with smaller vessels at both ports. A transpacific supersize ship may theoretically sail between a Japanese transshipment port and a west coast American transshipment port. At the Asian end of the voyage, interlining ships will carry containers from Shanghai, Busan, Hong Kong and Taiwan. At the American end of the voyage, interlining vessels will carry containers to several other west coast ports.

A supersize containership could theoretically sail from an Asian transshipment port to a future transshipment port located in the Gulf of Panama. Upon arrival, it would interline with smaller vessels that sailed across the Panama Canal as well as from South American Pacific ports. After exchanging containers, the supersize vessel would return to Asia while the smaller ships sail to their respective destinations in South America and across the Panama Canal to North American east and Gulf Coast, Central American and Caribbean destinations. However, the frequency of service may be insufficient to warrant construction of a Nicaragua Canal.

For westbound sailing involving a supersize containership, smaller ships may sail from Japanese ports, Busan, Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong to transshipment ports at Singapore, Malaysia or even Colombo from where the supersize ship will sail towards Cape Town. The number of containers destined for South American Atlantic ports as well as West African ports as far north as Monrovia, Liberia, may be sufficient to warrant the operation of a ship of 26,000 TEU to a transshipment terminal located near Cape Town where it will interline with ships serving West and East African ports as well as South America. The volume of containers destined for South America will determine as to whether the giant ship would sail westbound across the South Atlantic or return to major Asian transshipment terminals carrying containers from West Africa, South America and the southern region of South Africa.

Sailing the giant ship to South America invites evaluation of a future transatlantic container market. Brazil’s economy is currently in a downturn, but future economic recovery and growth could produce an increase in trade between Brazil and Asian nations, between east coast South America and east coast North America as well as between east coast South America and Europe. A future transhipment terminal near Santos would offer connections to Buenos Aires, Montevideo and several Brazilian Atlantic ports. Competitive transportation costs aboard the supersize ship could extend its future sailing range or those of the interline ships to include the southern and southeastern Caribbean region. A series of alliances and agreements amongst shipping operators could create market application for such large ships on the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Further independent market research will be required to determine the ship’s future applicability.

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