Evolution of Shipping

My sea career lasted for an exciting decade which saw huge growth in ship size. I went through the evolution of shipping from sailing on a 3,500 TEU jumbo container vessel that was built in the year when I was born to an 8,000 TEU container vessel. In 2003, that 8,000 TEU vessel owned by my former employer was entered into the World Guinness Book of Records as the largest container vessel ever built. But although I stopped sailing on the largest ship at the time, the size of ships did not stop growing.

2014.03.25 - Evolution of Shipping Figure 1

Indeed ten years later the largest ship has more than doubled in size with the first Maersk Triple-E (which had its maiden voyage in September from its birth place, Busan, to Europe via Malaysia). The vessel has the capacity to transport 18,000 containers, about 11% more than the previous largest ship, with apparently 35% less fuel. It is currently the longest ship in service, although this record was previously held by VLCCs before their scrapping. No surprise it is the Asian routes that are home to these sea monsters, given the volume of goods produced in Asia and consumed in Europe and the US. Maersk will take delivery of another 19 over the next two years. But are these giant symbols of the world’s trade imbalance growing beyond all reason? Designs for 22,000 TEUs have already left the drawing board. It is the cost per TEU per mile which is the leading force, and it is the economy of scale which will feed the growth, but the marginal profits will probably decrease with the increase in size. Thus according to the probabilities there is an optimal size that the largest ships will reach.

It’s 25 years since the biggest ship became too wide for the Panama Canal, carrying a mere 4,700 TEU. Post-Panamax became the new name for them. The Triple-Es can still pass through the Suez Canal, but only just, however, ports deep enough and large enough to accommodate them is a more serious challenge, with only a few in Europe and none in the US. The new ships will probably not carry full capacity for several months while European ports invest in more crane handling infrastructure.

2014.03.25 - Evolution of Shipping Figure 2

Evolution of container ships

The 3,500 TEU vessels I sailed have surely been scrapped years ago, or become transformed into feeder vessels. Then as now, shipping experienced tough economic times, with the ship owners looking for ways to cut the fuel bill. In my early years in shipping, there was not much technology around to help. We practiced operating at minimum ballast and trimming the vessel by ‘bow’. Draft readings with bubble gauges were not reliable when the vessel is at sea. The only way of calculating the draft and trim were to use your class approved type –Loading Computer! And I remember there was a clear instruction from the office that we should always trim to 30cm – 50cm to the bow, but there was no way of knowing if the sailing conditions matched the instructions.

We never really knew whether any of these measures to save fuel were effective or not, since it was difficult for the crew to know if the vessel is really trimming as she should and for shore-based staff to measure and verify any savings.

But today, investments in technology such as dynamic trim optimization, speed optimization and the optimization of engine load configurations can be harnessed to help shipping companies understand ship performance and the direct correlation with fuel consumption. Knowing the breakdown of propulsion power and where energy is being used can help identify what measures can be adopted to reduce resistance and improve trim, dynamically as the sea state changes. This can help all types of vessels, including the very biggest ones on the seas, to effectively maximize efficiency and the fuel consumed for each and every voyage.


Author - Capt. Soh Wikki, Eniram Capt. Soh Wikki is one of Eniram’s Captains in charge of assisting sales team members in the sales process. He has deep understanding of the marine industry and Eniram products. In addition to helping sales team understand customer needs, he prepares and delivers technical presentations. Wikki holds a Class 1 Certificate of Competency which entitles him to sail onboard as a Master. During his extensive career in the shipping world he sailed onboard several large container vessels and LNG Tankers.


The article was initially published in Eniram’s blog and is reproduced here with the Author’s and the Company’s kind permision. Eniram provides the maritime industry with energy management technology to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Created by experienced seafarers and technologists, Eniram’s solutions range from single onboard applications to comprehensive fleet analysis.

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