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Cargo container ships are the largest ships in the shipping industry, and their size is about to get even larger. With the completion of the $5.25 billion Panama Canal Expansion project in 2016, it made way for New Panamax ships with are almost two times larger than the prior Post-Panamax Plus container ships. As a result of this expansion, more shipping ports around the United States and the world need to be dredged, and bridges raised to accommodate these 18,000 TEU vessels to remain competitive ports.

How Much Cargo Can the Largest Shipping Container Ship Really Hold?

The largest shipping container ship is the Ultra Large Container Ship, or ULCV, introduced in 2013 as the “Triple-E” style ship, used by the Maersk line and manufactured by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering in South Korea. Triple-E stands for “economy of scale, energy efficiency, and environmentally-approved.” These ULCVs are currently the largest mega vessels on earth, and the most fuel-efficient.

These mega vessels are 23-container widths across and can stack 10 containers high on the top deck, and 8 containers high below deck. They have 24 bays and are measured in 18,000-21,000 20-foot equivalents or TEUs. The TEUs are equal to the number of containers the ships can carry. The Triple-E can carry between 18,000-21,000 containers or up to 165,000 tons.

Will Container Ships Keep Growing in Size Forever?

With the growing demand for goods across the world from major export countries such as China, the United States, Germany, Japan, and Hong Kong, the need for larger container ships to carry more in one trip will continue to grow as well. There are designs in the works for a “Malacca Max” class, which would be the largest container ships ever constructed. These would have a shipping capacity of 27,000-30,000 TEUs.

How Many Containers Fit on a Container Ship?

Depending on the size of the container ship, most cargo vessels hold anywhere between 10,000 TEU to 21,000 TEUs. Since containers are measured in TEUs, the TEU capacity indicates exactly how many containers can be placed on the deck and below the deck of the ship.

The Benefits of Using Bigger or Smaller Container Ships

While larger container ships sound like a better option for long distances, this is not always the case. Large vessels create bottlenecks in shipping ports and places like the Panama Canal, which can slow down the shipping trade route even further.

Exporters in Asia and Europe often find that smaller vessels, around 12,000-14,000 TEUs, offer versatility that larger ships don’t have. However, larger container ships offer better fuel economy than smaller ships. Smaller ships tend to output more harmful carbon gas emissions into the atmosphere, which is a concern for the impacts on global climate change. In an era where shipping companies want to be viewed as eco-friendly, erring on the side of larger ships may actually be a better choice.

Liner Companies Face Rising Cost to Charter Container Ships

Rent is a problematic factor in the rising costs of liner companies’ rental of container ships. Between July 2018 and 2019, the costs of chartering rose over 20%. Many companies own half of their fleet and charter out the other half, which makes rental costs a significant expense for many liner companies.

Big Ocean Ships Equal Big Problems but Small Benefits

While it may seem that the more cargo that can be loaded onto a carrier, the cheaper the cost of shipping will be, in reality, the port costs for these ships are much higher which does not reduce the price. Additionally, larger ships are limited to certain ports that can accommodate them and can create bottlenecks and ship lines that extend shipping time.

Why Cargo Ships Might (Literally) Sail the High Seas Again

Because of the concern for pollution and carbon emissions from traditional carbon fuel-powered ships, the International Windship Association is pushing for projects to develop sailing cargo ships. Other groups, such as the Smart Green Shipping Alliance believe lower emissions can be achieved with a combination of clean fuel sources and wind sailing technology.

How Much Bigger Can Container Ships Get?

Container ships could get as big as 30,000 TEUs in the near future, but shipping ports and waterways will have to be adjusted to accommodate these monstrous vessels, which will take many years. Infrastructure, from bridges to waterways to adjoining properties will all need to be adjusted. For instance, the current size of the Suez Canal maxes out at 22,000 TEUs.

What Should Be Done to Prevent Fires on Container Ships?

Fires aboard a container ship are frightening, and crews are at risk. The German Insurance Association made several proposals they believe can help reduce the risk of fires on board container ships. These include:

  • Building compartments below-deck so the fire cannot spread
  • Install thermal systems and infrared cameras
  • Install a firefighting system that is water-based and will trigger when a fire is detected
  • Install water curtains for above-deck containers to cool and contain a fire

Five Fast Facts about Maritime Cargo

Here are some important facts you should know about the maritime cargo industry:

  • Los Angeles received the largest amount of TEUs in 2017, bringing in 16 million containers into port.
  • Around 99% of goods are transported by sea, with about 70% of those goods housed in containers.
  • Shipping across the sea is the safest form of cargo transport.
  • Women are a minority in the shipping industry, making up only 2% of the 1.5 million seafarers employed.
  • Shipping and port industries constitute 26% of the U.S. GDP, or around $5.4 trillion.

Final Thoughts

Shipping containers are already quite large, but with more demand for goods across the world, the sizes of ships, ports, rivers, and canals will need to expand. At Asiana USA, we can help you get your goods from point A to point B at the best cost. Contact us today at 855-500-1808.

Tristan is a professional writer having had careers as a teacher of English, school administrator, and as a broker in real estate sales. He has gained a great deal of legal experience through his service as the president of a teacher’s union, a member of the board for a real estate association, and as the chairman of the Government Affairs Committee for the real estate board of directors. Before beginning a full-time job as a freelance writer, he was the Executive Director of the Global Business Alliance for a local Chamber of Commerce and sat on the Government Affairs Committee for the Chamber.
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