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Ships Get Bigger and Global Ports Expand, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Ocean shipping rates are influenced by supply and demand.  In recent years, shipping companies ordered large numbers of new freighters to provide increased capacity.  Unfortunately, just as many of those new ships were being delivered, bulk freighter charter rates fell to drastically low levels.
Meanwhile, investment in extremely large freighters has been very significant.  Some of the newest ships are of massive size and capacity never seen before.  The Panama Canal completed a major expansion project in June 2016 that enables it to handle much higher cargo volume and much larger ships.
New ship construction for shipping giant Maersk has been very highly innovative.  The first of its enormous Triple-E ships, built by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering in Korea, was delivered in 2014.  Each ship is 1,312 feet long, 193.5 feet wide and 239.5 feet high.  They are capable of holding 18,000 twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) containers each, about 2,500 more than the previous generation of largest ships.  They have been designed to operate very advantageously, with 20% lower carbon emissions and 35% lower fuel usage per container than typical large ships.

Ship and Tanker Sizes
Handy and Handymax        less than 60,000 dwt*
Panamax       50,000 - 80,000 dwt
Aframax         80,000 - 115,000 dwt
Capesize       80,000 - 175,000 dwt
Suezmax       120,000 - 150,000 dwt
VLCC             150,000 - 320,000 dwt
ULCC             300,000 - 550,000 dwt
*dwt stands for dead weight tonnage
The Biggest Container Ships:
PS-class        container ships capable of carrying 11,000 TEUs (twenty-foot containers)
E-class                       14,770 TEUs
Triple-E          1,312 feet long and capable of carrying 18,000 TEUs
Post Panamax
Post Panamax, Super Post Panamax and Ultra Post Panamax refers to ships of great size—the widening of the Panama Canal, being completed at a cost of more than $5 billion, means that ships as long as 1,200 feet with a beam of as much as 160 feet will be able to traverse the Panama Canal.  This will include the largest new cruise ships, such as the Queen Mary 2 and the Freedom of The Seas.
The size of a tanker generally determines the market in which it can work.  Handymax and Panamax ships work in small, short-haul markets, typically serving small islands and other isolated markets.  Aframax and Suezmax mid-size tankers are the most versatile ships and can be used for both short- and long-haul runs.  This versatility also makes the markets these ships serve the most competitive.  VLCC and ULCC (Very Large Crude Carrier and Ultra Large Crude Carrier, respectively) ships serve the long-haul markets, such as from the Middle East to the western U.S. or Western Europe. 
Some of these ships are so large that they need custom facilities in order to dock.  In fact, many of the largest ships utilize offshore terminals miles from the coast and rarely call on land-based ports.
SPOTLIGHT:  For the Future, Automated Cargo Vessels?
One way to cut costs would be to reduce or eliminate crews on cargo vessels, according to some ship industry thinkers.  This could be done by automating many ship operations, such as machinery monitoring, and even basic navigation through open water.  On-shore captains could command multiple ships through live data feeds that include video and infrared imaging.  Small crews could be placed on board when ships dock or embark, much as pilots come onboard to assist with navigation.  Another benefit of automated shipping might be slower, longer voyages which would not require the expense of housing crew members but would afford the savings in fuel attained by lower speeds. 
Some analysts say that a 30% reduction in speed by a bulk carrier would result in the use of 50% less fuel.  Rolls Royce’s marine division already operates virtual ships’ bridges with 360 degree views for officer and crew training.  Unmanned ships would be analogous to the well-known trends of driverless cars and trucks, as well as pilotless, drone, aircraft.

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