Cargo Ships – Giants of the Sea

Their size is measured in soccer fields, their carrying capacity approaches 200,000 tons – it’s a constant head-to-head race to the top in the rankings of the world’s biggest container ships. We take a closer look at the largest cargo giants currently in service.

For the top position in the ranking of the largest container ships in the world there is a constant head-to-head race. Photo: HHM/Hasenpusch productions

Around 6.1 meters long, 2.4 meters wide, and 2.6 meters high, or 20 x 8 x 8.5 in Anglo-American “feet”. These are the dimensions of a 20 foot ISO container, the international standard size for freight containers in which goods and components sail across the world’s oceans. Each of these containers can weigh up to 20 tons. And the largest container ships in the so-called “Megamax class” load almost 24,000 of them.

The air gets so thin at the top of the relevant container ship rankings that every extra container counts: Exactly 23,964 “Twenty Foot Equivalent Units” (TEU) fit on the almost 400 meter long and 61 meter wide HMM Algeciras – currently the largest container ship in the world. To better illustrate: Its width is roughly equivalent to the required minimum width of a soccer field, while its length equates to no less than four soccer fields. This means the ocean giant is longer than New York’s Empire State Building is tall. Fully loaded, it has a draught of up to 16 meters. The necessary propulsion is provided by a diesel engine with an output of around 82,000 hp.

New record holder HMM Algeciras

After two years of construction, the HMM Algeciras was launched in December 2019 and completed at the end of April 2020. This means that the MSC Gülsün with 23,756 TEU, the world’s largest container ship until that point, had to give up its top spot in the rankings and move aside after just a few months. It’s not unusual for the race to be decided at the very end – when the shipbuilding engineers add a few more containers to the originally designed tonnage, thus maxing out the cargo capacity down to the last container (see also table).

38 million container are in circulation worldwide, according to Hafen Hamburg Marketing e.V. Photo: HHM/Michael Lindner

The current record holder was commissioned by the South Korean shipping company Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) from Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering and is the first container ship in a series of twelve other Megamax class vessels. Like the MSC Gülsün, the HMM Algeciras sails under Panama’s flag – the reasons for such “flag changes”, which are customary in the industry, range from tax advantages to more relaxed legal requirements in the respective countries.

The current leading colossus Algeciras started its maiden voyage in the port of Yantian in the Chinese city of Shenzhen. Its route included the port of Hamburg. With a container throughput of 26.5 million TEU in 2020, Yantian is the fourth largest port in the world. Only Ningbo-Zhoushan in China (28.7 million TEU), Singapore (36.8 million TEU), and Shanghai (43.5 million TEU), by far the largest representative, handle even more containers. By way of comparison, container throughput during the Corona year totaled 8.5 million TEU in Hamburg, Germany’s largest seaport.

The 20 foot container is the ultimate benchmark

Like with many maritime specialties, there’s a reason for the “Twenty Foot Equivalent Units” container count, which can seem awkward to laymen. In addition to the 20 foot long standard containers, there are also 40 foot containers that are twice as long (length 12.2 meters, maximum total mass: 30 tons). However, because they’re more unwieldy and allow less tonnage in relation to their volume, they’re used less frequently – for example for very long machine components. Therefore, when determining freight capacity, counting 20 foot examples is more practical. Incidentally, a “20 foot container” is actually only 19.88 feet long. This is because two of these containers placed in line with each other must be exactly as long as a 40 foot container. There’s a gap of three inches or 7.6 cm between them.

Ships are getting cleaner

It’s well known that these ocean behemoths, which are usually powered by marine diesel, i.e. a mixture of heavy fuel oil and diesel oil, don’t occupy top positions in terms of environmental compatibility. But there is another way: The CMA CGM Jacques Saade, which will enter service in September 2020, currently ranks third in terms of cargo capacity – and is the first giant ship to be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG). Compared to traditional ship propulsion, it’s expected to emit about 25 percent less CO2, 85 percent less nitrogen oxides and 99 percent less sulfur dioxide. That’s good news for the environment, especially since the French shipping company CMA CGM has already ordered eight more giant cargo ships of the same design.

Seven years of research and development went into shipping company CMA CGM`s first Megamax containership “Jaques Saadé” with Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) propulsion. Foto: HHM/Hasenpusch productions
Grüner Trenner Infokasten Box Kasten

Maritime Activities by DEKRA

When it comes to safety, testing, and services, DEKRA isn’t only active on land but on the world’s oceans – or rather in the world’s major seaports. The activities of the DEKRA Claims Services GmbH Marine & Cargo Survey business unit include, for example, testing and certifying dimensional accuracy, stability, and quality of freight containers, or monitoring containers with measuring technology in order to record movements, impacts, and/or temperature fluctuations during transport. Services also include expert opinions on damage to freight and goods, as well as accompanying sensitive freight across multimodal transport chains (for example, from ship to rail to truck), or escorting and monitoring transhipment between sea and land transport. To prevent accidents and damage, DEKRA advises companies on container loading (technical term: stowage) and also offers appropriate training and audits for shore personnel, among other things.

The five largest container ships in the world

RankingNameClassFlagCommissionedLengthFreight Capacity
1HMM AlgecirasMegamaxPanama2020400 m23.964 TEU
2MSC GülsünMSC Megamax-24Panama2019400 m23.756 TEU
3CMA CGM Jacques Saade*CMA CGM 22.000 TEU-TypFrankreich2020400 m23.000 TEU
4OOCL Hong Kong**G-KlasseHong Kong2017400 m21.413 TEU
5COSCO Shipping UniverseCOSCO-20000-TEU-TypHong Kong2018400 m21.237 TEU

*eight identical sister ships planned **plus six identical ships: OOCL Germany, OOCL Japan, OOCL United Kingdom, OOCL Scandinavia, and OOCL Indonesia (2017-2018) 

Related articles
 
Magazine Topics
 
Newsletter