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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Bigger and Better

Early in January, the world’s largest container ship docked for the first time in the UK at one of Felixstowe’s deep water berths. As I watched the footage of the CSCL Globe, with its capacity of 19,100 TEU arriving at the Suffolk port, I was very unsure what my overriding emotion was.

Was this something to be viewed with amazement and admiration as another exciting stage in the ever-evolving world of mercantile shipping? Or a development to be viewed with trepidation given the obvious insurance and salvage complexities if such a titanic vessel had a major incident on one of her voyages.

Almost unbelievably, the CSCL Globe was very quickly to lose her mantle of the largest container ship in the world. This to the MSC Oscar (19,224 TEU), signifying the trend for some of the world’s major shipping companies to place orders for ever bigger vessels. Soon we will have 20,000+ TEU vessels. As someone whose days in the Merchant Navy were in the last era before containerisation, I couldn’t help but think if the simplification which containers brought to the loading and unloading of merchant ships has now been undermined by the huge logistical challenge on a ship such as CSCL Globe of dealing with a constantly changing cargo of up to 19,000 TEUs at her ports of call.

MSC OscarThe confidence which these shipping companies place in these giants of the sea has to be matched by the appetite of major international port owners to fund the substantial infrastructure improvements to accommodate the ships - making the future choice of ports almost self-selecting.

The media was full of eye catching facts about the capacity of CSCL Globe - it could carry 900 million cans of baked beans for example! Often on these pages I complain about the lack of understanding and low public profile of merchant shipping and its importance to world trade, not least in keeping the high street shops well stocked. So perhaps the CSCL Globe is a wonderful and visually dramatic symbol of the critical role that merchant fleets play in keeping the world connected and supplied. But if I was a mere 55 years younger and setting out on my deep sea career again, I suspect I would not be rushing to serve on one of these giants. It would be interesting to hear what our readers think of these titans of containerisation.

HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR
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