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Focus: Global Supply Chain and Logistics

Our Weekly Feature Article on Topics Related to Global Supply Chain & Logistics

From SCDigest's On-Target e-Magazine

- Jan. 20, 2015 -


Global Supply Chain News: New Standard for Largest Container Ships, as Danish Company Pursues a Radical New Ship Design

New CSCL Ship Holds 19,000 TEU; Meet a New Ocean Container Hybrid; The Role of Sulfur Emissions


SCDigest Editorial Staff


Maersk set the standard for the world's largest container ship by TEU capacity when its first "Triple E" vessel set sail from as Asia to Europe in 2013. The new generation of Maersk ships can hold a little over 18,000 TEU, and Maersk ordered some 20 of them in total from South Korea's Daewoo Shipbuilding - the first of its container ships that Maersk did not construct itself.

But the Triple E's title as largest ship on the seas didn't last long, as in December the new CSCL Globe from Hong Kong-based China Shipping Container Lines - capable of holding 19,000 TEU - set sail, arriving in the UK port at Suffolk this week. The ship is 400 meters long, and is said to have the capacity to move 300 million tablet computers. If the containers it can hold were laid end to end, they would stretch on for an incredible 72 miles.

SCDigest Says:


The ship is a like a giant Prius of the seas, with a hybrid design that combines a natural gas engine with the wind power.

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But the CSCML Globe itself will hold the top spot for an even shorter period than the Triple E did. Soon to set sail in its first voyage is the MSC Oscar, which is capable of carrying about 120 more containers than the new CSCL ship.

Where will it end? Industry experts say there are designs on the table for ships capable of carrying perhaps 22,000 TEU.

The driver behind these ever larger megaships is simply economics. The operating and fuel costs per container are much less for the larger ships than for their smaller predecessors, though it was just a few years ago that a 13,000 TEU vessel was first being called a "megaship." The larger ships generally also release less CO2 per container than the smaller vessels.

Of course, those economics depend on being able to run the ships somewhere close to capacity, something Maersk struggled with at least early on. The need for that utilization is a significant factor behind the rise in ocean container shipping consortia, where capacity is pooled across carriers, most notably the proposed P3 alliance between the three largest carriers: Maersk, Switzerland's Mediterranean Shipping Co. and France's CMA CGM.

After having received regulatory approval from US and Euro officials, China shot the plan down in 2014, saying it would reduce competition in the sector. The idea was replaced by a 2M vessel sharing agreement between just Maersk and MSC, which was far less ambitious in its design in addition to involving just two carriers.

New Age Container Ship Design Gaining Interest

While most container lines and ship builders have been focused on simply larger and larger ships, there is news in recent weeks that there is growing interest in a radical new container ship design from a company called Lade AS that amazingly uses the curved hull of the ship as a form of giant sail.

The ship is called the "Vindskip," with the revolutionary design turning the whole vessel into a wind-assisted airfoil.

The ship is a like a giant Prius of the seas, with a hybrid design that combines a natural gas engine with the wind power. Lade says the ship could achieve fuel savings of 60% and reduce carbon emissions by 80%.

Designer Terje Lade says the new ship would operate more like an airplane than a sail boat.

"In the era of Christopher Columbus, for example, he would have used what became known as trade winds but his ship was quite different from the Vindskip because he would have been sailing with the wind - he couldn't sail into the wind," Lade says.

(Global Supply Chain Article Continued Below)



He says the Vindskip can almost sail into the wind, using "apparent wind," or the sail wind, to generate pull in much the same way that an airplane will take off when it reaches a certain speed.

The Lade web site says that "A vessel with a hull shaped like a symmetrical air foil going in the relative wind, will generate an aerodynamic lift giving a pull in the ship's direction, within an angular sector of the course."

But perhaps not surprising today, key to the concept working is not only the physical design, but software smarts that optimize the sailing route.

Lade says software being developed by Germany's Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services will calculates the optimal sailing route based on the weather and prevailing winds.

A container line would input the date it wants to leave and when you want to arrive, and the software then marries that with the weather forecast to calculate the best route.

That routing would be dynamically updated every day. At each waypoint , the software would check with the time arrival and tell the crew whether to speed up using the engines or slow down.

The design is gaining traction in part because of a change few not deep in the industry understand - coming rules on sulfur emissions which will dramatically impact the container shipping industry. Currently, the sulfur content in bunker fuels is capped at 3.5% but this is expected to drop to just 0.5% by 2020.

To run on the higher sulfur content fuels, it would be necessary to install expensive exhaust scrubbers, Lade says.

With the Vindskip design, the ship runs on wind and natural gas, and there are no sulfur emissions to worry about.

The Vindskip is gaining interest, such as from Wilhelmsen one of Norway's largest ship owners. Wilhelmsen has entered the Lade project on a technical basis. Lade, meanwhile, believes it can have the first Vindskip in the water by 2019.

It is not clear how many containers a Vindskip could hold, but it appears a variety of capacities could be achieved with the same basic design.

Others are not so optimistic on the new age ship design.

"In general, we do not believe that wind-assisted designs will play any significant role within the container shipping industry in the foreseeable future," said Maersk head of sustainability Signe Bruun Jensen.

"The technology remains unproven at both commercial and operational scale," she told CNN.

Is there a downside to ever larger container ships? What do think of the new Vindskip design? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button (email) or section (web form) below.


Recent Feedback

I think the Vindskip design is fantastic and hope it functionality can be proven perhaps on a smaller scale.

Alan P
Jan, 21 2015

Container shipping has suffered in the past decade form overcapacity leading decreases in freight rates. I have also read that many of the small shipping companies have undercut freight rates from Asia to Europe and across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, hoping to stay in business until the industry recovers.



Than Nguyen
Protective Packaging
Jan, 21 2015