Ships Carrying 50,000 Containers are on the Horizon


Ship containers have a big capacity and they keep getting bigger. The largest ship container is the OOCL Hong Kong having a carrying capacity of 21,413 boxes.

In the next 50 years, we will double that number, says a report by the New York-based firm, The McKinsey & Co. By 2067, ships will carry 50,000 containers. The global volume will grow to a whopping 858 million TEUs in 2066 from the 182 million TEUs of last year (equivalent to 20-foot container units).

The report highlights some caveats like the “narrowness and shallowness of some of the world’s waterways” which appear to be problematic but it concludes: “On balance, we do not view 20,000 TEUs as the natural endpoint for container ships – 50,000-TEU ones are not unthinkable in the next half-century.”

Bill Cofer, the President of the Virginia Pilot Association is somewhat skeptical. “There is a point at which everyone in the world would have to do these massive dredging projects”, he said. “If you take an objective view of what’s happening globally – just look at the major European and Asian ports”, he adds.

However, the East Coast has been preparing itself to handle bigger vessels. With the ongoing construction projects in Charleston, Savannah, Port Of Virginia, the waterways are deepening by 5ft (from 50ft to 55ft) and widening by 200 ft (from 1000 ft to 1200ft). In recent years, the Panama Canal has been widened to make way for ships carrying up to 14000 TEUs.

The earliest ship that carried containers, – the Ideal X in 1956 – moved just 58 of them. At present the biggest container ship, the OOCL Hong Kong carries 21,413 TEUs, marking a 370 fold increase, as reported by the McKinsey & Co.

Reacting to the McKinsey study, Jim Newsome, the president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority said that an ocean carrier had asked Charleston to simulate handling a 19,000-TEU ship, which he estimated would be about the biggest ship the port could handle due to harbor depth and the height of the Ravenel Bridge. Ocean carriers have talked with Virginia Port Authorities regarding the feasibility of bringing 16000-18000 TEU vessels to Hampton Roads, said Cofer. He believes that ships above 22000 TEU are unfathomable for most ports at this moment. Such ships require deeper drafts of at least 63 ft which is nearly impossible to find in today’s world.

Virginia Port Authorities admit that many questions need to be addressed before this 50,000 TEU containers ship can become a reality. “Our focus, our goal, is to evolve with the industry”, said Joe Harris, the Virginia Port Authority Spokesman. “We’re always planning, we’re always looking for the next phase, the next evolution,” he added.

Although it seems farfetched but McKinsey has a good track record of predictions gone right. Their 1966-67 cargo containers report for the British Transport Docks Board stands tall in this regard. The McKinsey report at that time stated that “Containerization is emerging as the most important and far-reaching single factor in the movement of exports and imports through UK ports.” The cover letter recommended “containerization to be recognized as an urgent ‘fact of life.” So, a 50000 containers ship looks probable in the near future.

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Source: Pilot Online