Behemoth in the offing?

Attuned to the liner shipping industry's unerring drive for economies of scale, classification society Lloyd's Register (LR) has developed a conceptual design of container vessel incorporating a 12,500-TEU capacity. Although some 55-60 percent greater in slot capacity than the biggest cellular vessels ordered to date, the envisaged Ultra Large Container Ship (ULCS) would be able to transit the Suez Canal I and access key ports.

LR considers that there are no insurmountable technical challenges to I vessels of 12,500 TEU, and believes that it is only a matter of time before such tonnage makes its appearance in deep sea trade. The next five to 10 years could see the uptake of the envisaged new breed of behemoths by the container shipping industry.

The society has examined structural, dynamic behavior and performance aspects relating to the tentative design. Key elements of the program included the development of mid-ship scantlings, investigations into hull girder bending and torsional response, and consideration of maneuvering and propulsion aspects.

The development of the concept design followed on from a study jointly undertaken by LR and the independent U.K. firm Ocean Shipping Consultants, to identify the optimum size of post- Panamax vessel that could potentially be supported by current and forecast trade demand and the port network.

A primary objective of LR was to subsequently determine possible structural problems that might be encountered with a ship offering a cargo capacity substantially in excess of the currently attained 8,000 TEU category.

While the studies indicated limits to scale economies, it was clear that the upper point had by no means yet been reached. Taking due account of key factors determining maximum vessel size, not least questions of port access and terminal infrastructure, a vessel of approximately 12,500 TEU was identified as the optimum ULCS. The dimensions of the ensuing design drawn up by LR are compatible with maximum permissible draft restrictions through the Suez Canal, and reflect existing and planned developments at key terminals in the long-haul trades. The largest post-panamax vessels contracted so far have practical container intake capacities in the 7,000-8,000 TEU range.

Hapag-Lloyd's recently-ordered quartet of 25-knot vessels from Hyundai Heavy Industries have advertised, nominal capacities of 7,200 TEU, and have been specified with the most potent propulsive power plant currently available.

The surge in the global orderbook for wider-than-panamax cellular tonnage has been one of the outstanding features of newbuilding investment in recent years. Post-panamax boxships on order, under construction and in service now account for 20 percent of total slot capacity at sea and to be delivered.

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