Steve's Guide To Vessel Types.


Until the dramatic economic dowturn in late 2008, the Containership or "Boxship" had been the great success story of the last 50 years. Cargo loading and unloading was previously always a slow, labourious task, due to the varying shapes, sizes, weights and fragility of the numerous cargoes being carried on any one vessel. The idea of standardising the carrying box, or container at 20 feet long (the TEU = 20 foot equivalent unit) was a breakthrough that allowed for vessels to be designed to carry these standard sized boxes, and for dockside equipment also to be designed to lift , stack and store these specific shapes.

Initially, these were small vessels of up to 10,000 DWT, carrying no more than a few hundred TEU, but have grown in size as the success and the economics of these vessels have become more obvious. Today's container ships are being built to take over 18,000 T.E.U., such as the MAERSK McKINNEY MOLLER, the first of a new generation of containership, which entered into service on 15th July 2013. Although these latest vessels can carry more boxes than ever before, the emphasis has shifted from building for speed, to building for efficiency, economy and environmental safety, hence the term "Triple E" as the classification of these ships. However, they are affectionately called "Malaccamax" vessels, as the shallowest part of the Malacca Straits is 25 metres deep, so this is the limiting factor for any vessel wishing to transit the Straits.

As well as the Twenty foot container, many goods need larger boxes, so there is a larger standard sized container, the FEU (Forty Foot Equivalent Unit). In fact, in the world, there are more of the Forty Foot boxes than there are the 20 foot ones. On board a modern containership, the complex method of loading the boxes in an order that will facilitate offloading at the other end is now largely computerised. As if specially designed to give Chief Officers a headache, a modern development is the "high box", a standard container in length and width, but 9' 6" high (instead of the standard 8'). To get some comprehension of the size of the latest generation of container ships, below you can see a size comparison between the world's largest airliner (the Airbus A380) at 73 metres long and the EMMA MAERSK, (the previous largest containership, at 15,000 TEU maximum capacity, before the MAERSK McKINNEY MOLLER entered service) at 372 metres long. It perhaps demonstrates how much more can be carried on one vessel than on a whole fleet of aircraft.

Refrigerated containers ("reefer containers") have become very popular for the carriage of meat and fruit. Due to their flexibility of usage, these reefer containers are gradually destroying the need for specialised "reefer" ships, whose numbers are declining due to their business being taken over by these reefer containers.

The containers are anchored by "twist locks", which simply twist round to lock the 8 corners of the container to the neighbouring container. The outside of the whole stack is then further fixed with lashing poles diagonally from corner to corner.

Until the latest generation of containership, where economics have taken preference, these vessels had been built for speed, and could reach upwards of 28 knots, moving cargoes around the world. Globally storing and returning empty boxes has become an industry in itself as 56% of all boxes in the world are actually empty, simply being stored or moved around the world for re-loading!

Through-transport or inter-modal transport, means that these containers can be offloaded from a ship, and rapidly loaded onto trains or onto container lorries for onward transport to the place of delivery. Recently, this has led to serious security concerns, as well as concerns over the contents of the boxes, which are not always correctly manifested. The MSC FLAMINIA loss in 2012 - 2013 has highlighted these concerns. Weight distribution of the cargo on the vessel is another concern, coupled with concerns about the high % of High Tensile Steel (HTS) used in the construction of the hulls of these latest generations of mega-boxships, as with the catastrophic MOL COMFORT loss in June-July 2013.

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