Trends in ship size development.
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 : 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
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
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
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:
- As a result of the size of the container flows around the world and
their potential, containerships are the only ships that will increase
further in size.
- The optimal ship size calculations considered, lead to the conclusion that
the optimal ship size will lie between 17.500 and 20.000 TEU. The Europe
Far East and the Trans-Pacific routes are the only routes where ships of
this size can perform economically. The Trans-Atlantic route is served
optimally with ships with a capacity of 4.500 TEU.
- The Mega Ship is not recommended for transporting containers. The ship
costs too much in comparison with traditional containerships, that can
also carry the optimal number of 17.000 - 20.000 TEU.
- Value adding activities performed on the Mega Ship can make the use of the
ship for larger amounts of containers profitable. The activities that can
be performed on the ship are cross docking and processing/postponement.
Further investigations need to be done to examine the possibilities.
- The Mega Ship has the biggest chance of being realised when it will be
used for military purposes, like the Mobile Offshore Base concept of the
USA Navy. The use of the Mega Ship for airfield, theatre missile defence,
recreation, space vehicle launch, power plant and the use as a mobile
offshore base deserve further attention.
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