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In cargo shipping, increased efficiency and capacity are always crucial goals. In recent years, dedicated container ships (colloquially known as box boats) have increased in size as operators attempt to cram in more goods and containers.

How many containers can a ship carry today, and just how much bigger can this type of seagoing vessel get? Some experts believe there is no limit to the size of container ships, while others suggest that further increases may not be practical or economical.

How Did the Panama Canal Expansion Project Affect Shipping Size?

The completion of the $5.25 billion Panama Canal Expansion project in 2016 made way for New Panamax ships, which are almost two times larger than the earlier Post-Panamax Plus container ships.

The Panama Canal expansion project significantly impacted the future of shipping and the size of container ships. Before the expansion, the canal could only accommodate box boats and other vessels up to a certain size. As a result, the age of container ships was called into question, and future vessels are being designed to meet this size restriction.

However, with the canal’s expansion, larger vessels can now transit fully loaded through the canal. This is expected to significantly impact future trade routes, the global economy, and container ports.

To remain competitive after this expansion, shipping ports in the United States and around the world need to be dredged, and bridges need to be raised to accommodate box boats with an individual container ship capacity of 18,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units).

How Did the 2021 Suez Canal Obstruction Affect Container Shippin

In March 2021, the Ever Given—an ultra-large container ship nearly as long as the Empire State Building is tall—became wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal on its wait to the container port, blocking one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

The incident caused a week-long traffic jam of over 400 vessels, significantly disrupting container traffic and slowing the flow of billions of dollars worth of goods. As a result, container shipping rates soared, and supply chains were thrown into disarray worldwide.

According to Marine Insight, the Ever Given was seized and grounded for 106 days after it was freed, during which Egypt and the Port Said authorities negotiated with the Evergreen Marine Corporation, the ship’s owner.

The Suez Canal is a crucial link in the global supply chain, connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. Every day, more than 50 ships carrying millions of dollars worth of goods transit the Suez Canal.

The Ever Given’s blockage of the Suez’s port facilities caused a backlog of vessels waiting to enter the canal, while those already in the canal were forced to wait until the ship was freed. The delay cost businesses worldwide as perishable goods spoiled and factories ran out of raw materials. One estimate put the total cost of the incident at over $10 billion.

While the Ever Given has now been freed and Suez Canal’s shipping lanes have reopened, the incident has underscored just how vulnerable global supply chains are to disruption. Businesses will need to reconsider their reliance on just-in-time inventory models and look for ways to diversify their product transportation models.

Largest Container Ships

Modern container ships are giant vessels operated by major container line companies that can carry tens of thousands of containers at a time. Here are some of the most notable of these vessels.

The Ever Ace, The World’s Biggest Container Ship

The Ever Ace was built by Samsung Heavy Industries and launched in 2021. It is currently operated by Evergreen Marine, the world’s 7th largest container line, and was certified as the world’s largest ship designed to carry containers on July 30, 2021.

This Evergreen A-class container ship is 400 meters long (or equivalent to over 10 tug boats lengthwise) and can transport over 24,000 TEU of cargo.

The Ever Ace is just one example of the giant ships that ply the world’s oceans, carrying everything from manufactured goods to perishables. These massive vessels are a vital part of the global economy, and their size continues to increase as demand for maritime shipping grows.

Maersk Triple E-Class Vessels

The Maersk Line Triple E-class vessel is another one of the largest cargo ships in the world. These ships are enormous, measuring approximately 400 meters in length and carrying up to 18,270 TEUs, or about 9,135 forty-foot containers (one forty-foot container equals two TEUs).

Maersk Line, the world’s second-largest container line behind the Mediterranean Shipping Company, currently operates 31 vessels in this class, for a combined total carrying capacity of over 580,000 TEUs (approx. 290,000 forty-foot container equivalents).

With a beam length of 59 meters, it belongs to a size category titled Ultra Large Container Vessel (ULCV), the largest cargo ship category to date. Although it cannot fit through the Panama canal, the primary purpose of Maersk Line Triple E-class vessels is to operate on the Asia-Europe route (e.g., Hong Kong to European Union countries), as it is capable of crossing the Suez Canal.

Maersk Line Triple E-class vessels are designed to maximize container traffic efficiency, minimize costs and play a vital role in international trade. They have made it possible to transport goods cheaper and more quickly than ever before and have helped boost the global economy.

However, some critics argue that these ships are too large and pose a risk to the environment. Nevertheless, Maersk Line Triple E vessels show no signs of slowing down, and they look set to dominate the world of maritime transportation for years to come.

These mega vessels are 23-container wide across and can stack 10 individual containers high on the top deck and 8 individual containers high below deck. They have 24 bays and carry between 18,000 and 21,000 TEUs or 9,000 to 10,500 forty-foot containers.

The TEUs are a unit that indicates the number of containers the ships can carry. The Triple-E can carry between 18,000-21,000 twenty-foot containers or up to 165,000 tons.

Malaccamax-Class Ships

Another one of the largest ship classes in the world is the Malaccamax, which made its maiden voyage in 2016. A Malaccamax-class ship is 1,200 feet long and can carry 20,000 containers. It can travel up to 25 miles per hour and has a cargo capacity of 2.1 million cubic feet. The ship class is named after the Strait of Malacca, a major point of the Asia-Europe Route.

The Malaccamax is part of a new class of container ship that is larger and faster than most of its predecessors. Malaccamax-class vessels are among the largest container ships in the world, designed to take advantage of the changing landscape of the global container traffic. Their massive size and total capacity allow them to transport more goods more quickly and efficiently than ever.

Malaccamax is a powerful symbol of maritime commerce’s changing face and will profoundly impact the world economy.

The Future of Container Ships


The earliest container ships were launched in the 1950s, revolutionizing maritime trade. These vessels could carry large numbers of containers, which significantly increased the energy efficiency of cargo transport. Today, 21st-century container ships are an essential part of the global economy and are only getting larger.

Some experts predict that future container ships will be so large that they will be able to carry over one million cubic feet of cargo. Most container ports, from Hong Kong to the Suez Canal, would need significant upsizing projects to fit these potential future vessels.

Such massive container ships would have a profound impact on the global container traffic, and they would greatly increase the efficiency of maritime trade.

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 these future vessels to carry more in one trip will also continue to grow.

The Benefits of Using Bigger or Smaller Container Ships

While using the biggest container ships available may seem like the best option for long distances, this is not always the case. Giant ships create container port bottlenecks, further slowing the shipping trade route. Additionally, the largest ship classes cannot fit through common maritime trade destinations and container port facilities, such as the Panama Canal (e.g., Super-Panamax).

Exporters operating on the Asia-Europe Route often find that smaller vessels, with a container ship capacity of around 12,000-14,000 20-foot container equivalents, offer versatility that larger ships don’t have.

However, besides carrying higher container cargo volumes, the primary advantage offered by the biggest container ships is better fuel economy than smaller vessels.

Smaller ships tend to output more harmful carbon gas emissions into the atmosphere, which is a concern for their impacts on global climate change. According to Marine Insight, most large cargo ships can moderate their speed to save fuel and reduce emissions (this practice is known as slow steaming).

In an era where shipping companies want to be viewed as eco-friendly, erring on the side of larger ships may be a better choice.

Container Lines Face Rising Cost to Charter Container Ships

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

The cost of chartering a container ship has risen even more in recent years due to a number of factors. One of the main factors is the increasing price of Orient Overseas Container Line Mitsui O.S.K. Lines oil, which affects both the cost of fuel for the ship and the cost of shipping containers made from steel.

Another factor is the rising demand for shipping containers as global trade continues to grow. This has led to a shortage of available individual containers, which has driven up charter rates.

Finally, the ongoing pandemic and resulting economic downturn have resulted in delays and cancelations of ship sailings. Despite the challenges of the economic downturn, the demand for container ships remains strong as businesses around the world continue to rely on them to move goods around the globe.

Big Ocean Ships Equal Big Problems But Small Benefits

Modern container ships have become larger in recent years thanks to advances in shipbuilding technology, allowing a container line to transport more cargo without expanding their fleet. While this has resulted in more efficient transportation of goods, the increased container ship capacity has also led to a number of negative consequences.

  • The larger size of these vessels makes them more difficult to maneuver, and they are more likely to cause damage to docks and other infrastructure.
  • The size of the biggest cargo ships has also led to increased shipping traffic, leading to congestion in busy container ports.
  • The larger size of these ships makes them more difficult to inspect, posing a security risk. In light of these downsides, it is clear that the growing size of cargo ships is not without its challenges.

Why Modern Container Ships Might (Literally) Sail the High Seas Again

There are many factors to consider when deciding whether to use sailing cargo ships or motorized vessels for shipping goods. One crucial factor is cost: motorized vessels are typically more expensive to operate than sailing cargo vessels, primarily due to the cost of fuel.

Another factor to consider is speed. Motorized vessels can travel much faster than sailing cargo ships, meaning they can make more trips in a shorter period.
However, sailing cargo ships have several advantages as well. They are more environmentally friendly than motorized vessels and can navigate through shallow waters that motorized vessels cannot reach.

In addition, sailing cargo ships are less likely to be damaged in rough weather conditions. As a result, there is no clear answer as to which type of vessel is best for shipping goods. The best choice depends on the specific needs of the shipper.

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 as a greener alternative to container 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.

What Should Be Done to Prevent Fires on Modern Container Ships?

Although modern container ships are primarily built out of steel, fire remains one of the primary dangers. Every year, hundreds of container ships and other seagoing vessel types catch fire at sea, posing a serious danger to the crew and the environment.

While the exact cause of these fires is often unclear, they are typically started by a spark or flames from one of the ship’s cargo containers. Once started, the fire can quickly spread throughout the seagoing vessel, causing extensive damage and, on occasion, vessel sinkings. Several steps can be taken to prevent fires on container ships.

  • It is important to ensure that all containers are appropriately labeled and secured.
  • Regular inspections should be conducted to check for any signs of heat or sparks.
  • Fire suppression systems should be installed throughout the vessel to help contain any fires that break out. These simple precautions can help prevent container ship fires and protect both lives and property.

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 via seagoing vessel, 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 container port industries constitute 26% of the U.S. GDP, or around $5.4 trillion.

Asiana USA, Your Global Logistics Partner

At Asiana USA, we make it our mission to help you ship goods internationally as quickly and efficiently as possible. Our team can help every step of the way, navigating the most challenging aspects of container shipping on your behalf and ensuring your cargo reaches its destination safely. For more information or to request a free quote, contact us today at (855) 500-1808.

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