It doesn’t seem that there should be that much innovation in shipping. Man has plied the sea for ages, so can there be anything new under the sun? The answer is, yes, there can. And it is really, really big. The New York Times had an interesting article on the new Triple-E class of ships that A. P. Moeller-Maersk of Denmark has been bringing into service (Aboard a Cargo Colossus, Oct 3). These things are immensely huge — longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall. This video gives an idea of just how large these ships are.
So how does this size pay off? There are two obvious benefits. First, the crew does not scale with ship. It still has just one captain and so on. The crew is between 20 and 30 and is capable of moving more than 18,000 twenty-foot containers. The other factor is fuel efficiency.
During a recent voyage to the Suez, the Mary’s crew sailed on a parallel course with a 10-year-old Maersk container ship that held half as much cargo, but the Mary used only 6 percent more fuel. “We’ve seen during the last 10, 15 years a dramatic increase in fuel costs,” said Jacob Pedersen, an analyst at Sydbank, a Danish bank. “That gives them reason to get rid of the old uneconomic ships.”
These factors clearly make the case for big, big ships but ships are only half of the equation; one also needs ports. And currently there are no ports in the US that are equipped to take a ship this size. Consequently, the Triple-E class currently only works routes between Asia and Europe.