Delft University of Technology
Faculty Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering
Transport Technology / Logistic Engineering

E.M. Jansen Trends in ship size development.
Literature survey, Report 2001.LT.5458, Transport Technology, Logistic Engineering.

The sizes of ships, especially containerships, have always been increasing. Setting aside the limitations for the Panama Canal was a very important step for the increasing ship size. Research by Prof. Wijnolst and a group of graduate students [N. Wijnolst et al. Malacca-Max: the ultimate container carrier., Delft: Delft University Press (1999); N. Wijnolst et al. Malacca-Max [2]: container shipping network economy, Delft: Delft University Press (2000) have led them to believe that it is possible to build a 18.000 TEU containership with an allowable draught and a twin engine, twin screw configuration for the propulsion. And to take one more step into the extreme; Prof. Pinkster is heading a research team investigating the possibilities of constructing a very large floating structure of 200 m * 1.500 m, called the Mega Ship, the same surface as 40 soccer fields.
This leads us to believe that there are no technical limitations on ship size. Researchers from around the world agree that is indeed technically feasible to build a very large floating structure. The questions that now arise are the following. Is there an economical limitation to the size of ships? Is there enough transport demand to operate ships that large with a reasonable frequency? Is there an optimal ship size? What are the benefits of operating a very large container ship? Are there other possibilities for using the Mega Ship? The Japanese are using a large floating structure as an airport and the Americans want to use their concept as an alternative for military bases. Unless the Mega Ship is used for military or government purposes, the Mega Ship has to be cost efficient if it will be used in commercial shipping.

To answer these questions a literature study has been done to evaluate the trends in ship size development until now. The goal of this study is to obtain economical and logistical possibilities for using large ships. At first, all commodities will be considered. The commodities that will prove economically feasible will be investigated further. Finally, the possibilities for using the Mega Ship will be explored.

This literature study has concentrated on container shipping because the tanker and the bulk carrier already reached their optimal size in the seventies. Further increase in size has proved to be uneconomically and these ships have disappeared from the market.
Containerships are the only type of ships that are still growing. Also very important is that the flows of containers around the world are large enough to maintain a container shipping service with very large ships with a reasonable frequency.

Several calculation methods have been evaluated for extrapolation to larger ships, which has led to the performance of an optimal ship size calculation for ship sizes up to 100.000 TEU. This calculation has shown that it is possible for the Europe - Far East route to maintain a frequency of an arrival every two days with a ship size of 17.500 - 20.000 TEU.
The optimal ship size calculations has resulted in an optimal ship size for the three major shipping routes for containers. The optimal ship size for the Trans-Pacific and the Europe - Far East route is 17.500 - 20.000 TEU. For the Trans-Atlantic route the optimal size is 4.500 TEU. This is according to ship sizes in practice today and therefore this route will not be considered for operating large container ships.
Literature and the optimal ship size calculation both lead to the conclusion that the benefits in operating larger ships are caused by economies of scale. The shipping costs continue to go down with increasing ship size while the inventory costs go up. The optimum depends mostly on the ship's speeds and the length of the route.

The Mega Ship can not be operated economically in conventional container shipping. In the last part of this study concepts are discussed to make the Mega Ship more attractive compared to conventional container ships. On the Mega Ship activities can be done to add value to the cargo while transporting and thus saving time and costs on the shore. The Mega Ship could also be used in many other ways varying from the storage of nuclear material to the building of an offshore city.

After evaluating the trends in ship size development, the optimal ship size calculation and the conceptual possibilities for using the Mega Ship, the following conclusions and recommendations are made:

Reports on Logistic Engineering (in Dutch)
Modified: 2001.04.04; , TU Delft / 3mE / TT / LT.