Bigger and better?


Chinese shipbuilders are celebrating after the French line CMA-CGM signed a letter of intent in August for the construction of the world’s biggest container ships by Hudong-Zhonghua and Shanghai Waigaoqiao, two Chinese shipyards. Both yards are owned by state-run China State Shipbuilding Corporation.

The order is for nine vessels capable of carrying 22,000-TEU (twenty foot equivalent units). Each will cost up to $160 million, reports 21CN Business Herald, comprising a total order of about Rmb9.6 billion.

The Chinese media was delighted that their yards have seen off competition from South Korean rivals Hyundai Heavy Industries, Samsung Heavy Industries and Daewoo Shipbuilding, which have traditionally built the largest vessels (see our Focus edition earlier in the summer for more on the aspirations of the Chinese shipyards).

In capacity terms the new vessels will surpass the largest containership at sea today (it was built by a Korean yard). But just how big are they going to be, asks 21CN? Well, if all the containers were loaded onto a train, it would end up stretching for 142km, further than a trip from Nantong to Shanghai. All the same, the newspaper also quotes shipping insider Xin Jicheng as saying that containerships can’t get much bigger in the future. For one thing, the decks can’t be piled much higher with cargo. “The maximum stacking height of empty containers is usually 11 layers, and 8 layers for loaded ones,” he told 21CN. The other challenge is finding container terminals large enough to handle the supersized vessels. The megaships crowd out smaller vessels and the current generation of quay cranes will need to be replaced if ships keep growing. “These are huge investments for the port industry, which is obviously unrealistic,” Xin reckons.

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