Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 28, 2006

TEU Monsters

Find the people on the foredeck.

Bigger view (130kb)

Yesterday the COSCO Guangzhou made her first visit to Hamburg. This harbor fan just had to go down to the river and take some pictures.

This is the worlds biggest container vessel for now. It is 350 meters (1,150 feet) long and can carry a maximum of 9,500 TEU, i.e. 20" long containers (TEU = Twenty foot Equivalent Units).

There are four more of this type on order and as ship-size always increases, 12,000 TEU ships are already planed. Bigger ships though would not fit through the Suez canal and, due to the wider deck, the loading time might increase too much.

Right now, shipping cost are high with about all available ships worldwide booked. Even though scrap iron prices are up, those nasty scrap-yards have free capacity. Any available rust-bucket (some scary pictures within those PDF-files) is kept afloat.

But worldwide some 2,000 new seagoing ships will be launched this year and with all the new tonnage coming afloat, shipping rates are expected to fall significantly. Stocks for shipping companies are already down.

So maybe those 12,000 TEU monsters will never be build and the COSCO Guangzhou and her sister-ships will be the largest box-carrier to see for some years.

Posted by b on March 28, 2006 at 20:58 UTC | Permalink


I have been following the A.P.Moller/Maersk line since my Denmark days:

With a capacity of 7,000 TEU, MS GRETE MÆRSK is one of the largest container vessels in the world. The vessel was delivered to Maersk Line in 2006 by the Odense Steel Shipyard.

GRETE MÆRSK is the second ship in a new series of updated container ships which are produced with the purpose of securing an extensive automation when operating the vessel. The choice of materials for the vessel as well as the interior is of highest quality based on Danish design – a characteristic for the container ships built at Odense Steel Shipyard.

GRETE MÆRSK is yet another environmentally friendly vessel from the Yard.

The size of a container ship is defined throughout the world in terms of TEU capacity. The exception is the Maersk Sealand line. It does not quote the TEU capacity, but the maximum load capacity in terms of filled TEUs each with a 14 tonne load.

Information on true container ship capacities is commercially sensitive and may be several thousand TEUs higher.

I believe the new Maersk ships require a 17 man crew (8 pilot-nav./8engine-maint./1cook-blogposter). That is pretty phenomenal; no wonder there are no jobs, and harbors are no longer colorful places as in the movies.

Then there is this from Wikipedia:

The trend is for bigger sizes of container ships to reduce costs by economy of scales. In years to come, the limit will be the Suezmax ship, with 12000 TEU. Such vessels would need to displace 137,000 DWT, be 400 meters long, more than 50 meters large, draught nearly 15 meters and more than 85 MW to achieve 25.5 knots. Such designs are certainly already in preparation.

The next step will be the MalaccaMax ship, with 18000 TEU, of 200,000 DWT, 470 meters long, 60 large, 16 draught, with more than 100 MW for 25.5 knots. This should be the limit before major restructuring of world container trade routes. The biggest constraint of this design, the absence of a capable single engine, has been overcome by the MAN B&W K108ME-C. The ultimate problem is the (temporary) absence of a manufacturer capable of producing the 10 meters diameter, 130 tonnes propeller needed for transmitting this power. Other constraints, such as time in port and lack of flexibility of service routes are similar to the constraints that eventually limited the growth in size of the supertankers.

Major shipping harbors have channel depths of 40-42 ft. These behemoths have draughts of up to 50 ft. and require constant dredging in some areas to maintain even these depths. Of course, the dredging is environmentlaly destructive.

Nevertheless, these ships are far preferable to plane transport, which as Monbiot points out, is the single most destructive cause of global warming.

It is clear that the builders of these giants are not expecting to run out of #6 Bunker Fuel in the near future.

Really, for the way we live, these container ships are probably the least of our worries. There is this far more troubling report from Greenpeace:

Clean shipbreaking - where?
In 2003 the IMO also decided to phase out single hull oil tankers: the ban became world wide. This international law came into force on 5 April 2005. The European Parliament wanted to know the consequences of the new regulations for the shipbreaking and recycling industry. In September 2004 the European Commission published her answers in the report 'Oil tanker phase out and the ship scrapping study'. Main conclusion: in 2010 some 2,200 single hull oil tankers have to be removed from the waters. But there are hardly any facilities for the clean and safe breaking of these ships.

Destination unknown
Furthermore the EU hardly knows which European tankers have to be removed. In December 2004 Greenpeace published the report 'Destination unknown: European single hull oil tankers...No place to go', a search for the European oil tankers that have to be taken out of service. Bitter conclusion: many 'phased out' ships can undisturbed continue sailing the high seas. The rules do exist, but they lack law enforcers.

Environmental disaster
The Greenpeace report analyses that hundreds of ships will need to be scrapped within one year. But because of the lack of shipbreaking yards capable of scrapping ships in an environmentally clean way most of the single hull oil tankers will end up on a shipbreaking beach. The investigation also reveals the staggering collective oil cargo onboard the ships - 130 million liters - equal to more than two Prestige disasters. The ships are also laden with asbestos and other toxic substances. Oil and hazardous materials will end up on the beaches of Asia and Turkey: a complete disaster for the environment and the local fishing communities. And for the safety and health of the shipbreaking workers.

New shipbreaking beaches
With the rise of the number of ships for scrap, the number of dirty shipbreaking beaches will rise as well. In the beautiful nature reserve of Bolama beach near the West African state of Guinea Bissau an international coalition lead by Greenpeace managed to stop a proposed shipbreaking project. Another area threatened by shipbreaking plans are the white sand beaches of the East Indian Kakinada and the nearby mangrove forests of Coringa. Greenpeace supports the initiative of 70,000 fishermen to stop this new shipbreaking beach.

I recently saw Alain Tanner's IN THE WHITE CITY, with the great Bruno Ganz. Besides the haunting views of Lisbon, there is the clasic engine room sabotage scene with the huge diesel engines, probably about twice the size of any I've ever worked on.

Posted by: Malooga | Mar 29 2006 2:54 utc | 1

As an architect having P&O Ports as a client, I've found the recent Dubai issue to be interesting and the global containerization of virtually everything to be stunningly fascinating.

Firstly, for P&O we are building a maintenance facility for really big Tonka toys - the front door is 100 ft high, so nicely out of the norm.

More interesting are the global considerations when you start going thru the numbers. Here, in Vancouver, we're 28 hours closer to Asia than is Long Beach. The Canadian railways bypass Chicago so can do "bridge traffic" to the Atlantic in quick time. American railways are divided into western and eastern systems, so must trade off in the Chicago bottleneck - a significant delay. BNSF is the only American railway with a Vancouver terminus, and only goes to Chicago.

Southern Califoria suffers from a lack of electricity - a fundamental requirement of big terminals so expansion capability is hindered or very expensive, and their railways stumble into Chicago. The discussion of railways is germain as fuel shortages become more pronounced and trucking costs appreciate.

Post-Suez size ships are technically awsome but they will still be on basically a two or four week schedule and the issue will still be handling - loading, unloading, distribution - all constrainted by existing infrastructure.

And how much more Asian produced stuff do we need or can afford. These big ships just contribute to the US growing, and unsustainable, trade deficit.

And only 19 jobs, non-union 3rd world people on very minimal wages. Improvement is killing us.

Posted by: | Mar 29 2006 4:06 utc | 2

COSCO, China Overseas Shipping Co.

So you picked Hamburg for your port so you could go down to see the ships?

China's export growth has been faster to Europe than to the States the last couple of years. In 2005 China recorded a trade surplus with Europe for the first time.

Posted by: christofay | Mar 29 2006 8:52 utc | 3

Nice picture, it's almost scary.

Reading about sailboats, I came across a warning to look out for containers floating on the open seas. God knows there must be tons of crap floating out there, including but not limited to pieces of styrofoam, cigarette butts, trees and branches and glass Japanese fishnet floats.

They show up along the tideline here, and I am miles inland of the open Pacific.

That is one hell of a boat, Bernhard. What did it sound like?

They have similar container craft in the harbor of Vancouver, which is a pretty deep port within a city. Your version seems to be about twice as wide as the ones here.

It amazes me that the containers are all on the deck, at least three stories high. I see the Cosco logo here too, mostly on truck cargo containers.

Posted by: jonku | Mar 29 2006 9:03 utc | 4

They also go down a few layers. Who knows how many containers are in a stack?

Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese shipping lines all rose in size while their national economies followed the growth through exports model.

What do you say about third world labor doing ship breaking? The junk in the boats will just leak all over the environment. It's just massive amounts of human labor bashing away with torches and hammers. If it only takes 17 people to man a boat, should this work be done by 17 1st world workers using automation in a clean environment if possible? Edward Burtynsky back in the 90s had his photos illustrate a Wired article about ship breaking in either India or Pakistan. You can see some of his photos about this at:

He also did a series of the 3 Gorges hydroelectric dam in China. Now he's into Chinese factories.

Posted by: christofay | Mar 29 2006 11:28 utc | 5

Who knows how many containers are in a stack?

The maximum (I think) is 7 or 8 below the deck and 7 above. More would probably break the lowest container.
Average weight of a 20" container is 14 (metric) tons.

Posted by: b | Mar 29 2006 12:48 utc | 6

Thanks for this post. Fascinating.

Posted by: still working it out | Mar 30 2006 0:32 utc | 7


Posted by: remembereringgiap | Mar 30 2006 0:42 utc | 8

Not so proud ships:
Happiness: The Chinese zombie ships of West Africa

We arrive at Long way 08, which is in line for refuelling. This trawler is in a poor state, with the hull covered in masses of good-sized shellfish.

Four young Chinese crewman meet us with smiles and welcomes. They tell us that some of them have been on board for 2 years, non-stop. The trawler itself has been out here for eight years, and would probably be kept going for another six or so, or as long it lasted.

Here's the thing - these ships seldom, or ever, visit a port. They're re-supplied, refuelled, re-crewed and transhipped (unloaded) at sea. The owners and crews don't seem to do any basic maintenance, apart from keeping the engine and winches running. There's no glass in the portholes, and the masts are a mess of useless wiring. These floating deathtraps don't carry any proper safety gear - on one boat, I saw the half-barrel case of an inflatable liferaft being used to store a net.

We head for the 'graveyard' itself. The first battered ship, the Lian Run 02 has holes near the waterline. They're so big, I could reach out and put my fist through. The two crewman are cheerful enough - or maybe just happy to see new faces. They'd been waiting there a month, in the hope of getting new crew - so far, there's no sign.

Posted by: b | Mar 30 2006 12:28 utc | 9

The race to the bottom, and the race to the top.

Posted by: Malooga | Mar 30 2006 16:45 utc | 10

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