How Ports are Dealing with Larger Ships

By MarEx 2014-03-06 16:59:00

PortVision takes a look at how the ocean’s largest ships are driving change in the world’s ports:

Tankers, bulk carriers, passenger ships and container ships grow larger each day. Maersk's new Triple-E class containerships (six launched in 2013; ten more are planned) can carry 18,000 twenty foot containers, a 16 per cent larger capacity than the Maersk E-class ships. They are the world's largest; when they were ordered beginning in 2011, no port in North or South America could handle ships of this size. Royal Caribbean's Oasis class MS Allure of the Seas is the largest passenger vessel ever constructed. Both these ships are too large to transit the New Panamax locks being built in the Panama Canal.

China Shipping Container Lines (CSCL, a division of COSCO) recently ordered five new 19,000 TEU vessels – each will have a 400 meter deck, stand 30.5 meters high and be 58.6 meters wide. The first ship will go into service in November 2014 and the remaining four will be delivered in the first quarter of 2015.

Shell has completed building the hull of the world's largest floating LNG facility, planned to moor off the western coast of Australia. Called Prelude, the ship has a 488 meter (1,600 foot) long hull and stands 93 meters high.

This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that 214 post-Panamax ships that are the length of four football fields, can be 160 feet in height and can carry 13,200 containers are on order by various shipping firms. Smaller ships are being taken out of service and scrapped: 19 were scrapped in 2013; 40 are on the boards to be scrapped this year.

Economies of scale, a huge global demand for raw materials and energy, and a healing world economy in general, are all driving this growth. Additionally, the expansion of the Panama Canal promises greater ship traffic to the Far East from US ports by the end of 2015 – an end-date that has once again been pushed forward due to cost overruns and contractor negotiations.

Many ports are planning upgrades to accommodate these ships. Total costs are projected to be more than $11 billion. The Port of Charleston announced infrastructure projects to respond to needs that were not present in 1980 when their terminals were built. They also plan to dredge their harbor to 50 feet by 2018. Along the east coast of the US, the ports of Miami, Norfolk, Baltimore, New York and New Jersey, Savannah, and Atlanta are all currently underway with deepening traffic lanes, installing super sized cranes, increasing dock sizes, building additional storage, raising bridges (New York), building underwater tunnels (Miami), and bringing in additional rail capabilities.

As well, Gulf ports are anticipating pipeline expansion, additional on-shore and off-shore oil production and the need to accommodate larger vessels, with substantial infrastructure expansion.  For more detail on Gulf of Mexico port plans, see our blog: Oil Driving More Gulf Ship Traffic.

On the west coast of the US, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland are making major investments in their operations.

The length and draft of these massive vessels are changing less than the width – crane outreach for the 18,000 TEU container carriers must be 23 boxes wide, per Drewry, as reported on the Port Finance International website. Of particular concern is the efficient turnaround of these larger ships. Larger ships mean larger bulk and container cargo tonnage and the need to handle greater volumes of oil and gas.

Once in port, it requires a major logistics effort to load or offload quickly. The massive new ships will strain port facilities and operations. PortVision's Terminal Smart dashboard incorporates an overview of many of the activities needed to efficiently handle these larger ships and deal with related concerns, and it can be individualized as needed. The dashboard can include time stamps on arrivals and departures; dock-side event control; animated playback of AIS vessel movements to support negotiation, training, enforcement or litigation; and key demurrage-related data.

How to manage the safe operation of these ships brings a challenge to ports around the world. Collisions, groundings, and on-board accidents all become more frequent as the size and number of these vessels in harbors increases. Environmental concerns grow, too, with the advent of larger tanker capacities. Technology on-board as well as on-shore brings added complexity to the equation, but also can assist with the proper handling of these vessels.

At present, it appears that most ports are focusing on infrastructure improvements to respond to this era of larger vessels. It remains to be seen if ship tracking and harbor traffic management will be able to keep up without more effective informational and communication tools.