Get ready for 24,000 teu, warns OECD

As the trend for ever-increasing container ship sizes continues, a new International Transport Forum (ITF)/ OECD report warns 24,000 teu vessels could be sailing the world’s oceans by 2020.

The new report, which is part of the ITF/OECD Mega-Ship project, looks at the benefits of the current mega container ships and whether they still outweigh their costs to the whole transport chain.

According to the report, 24,000 teu vessels could have major impacts on main trade lanes, would raise transport costs and could hinder the competitiveness of ports overall.

“It is likely that at some stage 24,000 teu ships will be sailing the world oceans; it is not unimaginable that this will already be the case in 2020,” says the report. “This is of course speculation; these are strategic orientations of carriers that they are not willing to share.”

The report says there are three possible scenarios: The capacity of the fully cellular fleet will grow in line with the market demand growth during the next five years, with the total fleet capacity expanding by roughly one third and containing no units of a new generation of mega carriers with capacities of up to 24,000 teu by the year 2020, or grow with 50 units of new generation carriers replacing demand for 19,000 teu vessels, or with 100 units of new generation carriers.

But, the report goes on to state that for ports in the different regions, the average ship size is only one component. “If they want to compete for the hub status, they need to be prepared to receive the largest vessels that may regularly call in the future,” it adds.

The report reveals that even if there would be no upsizing of container ships to 24,000 teu ships, the dimensions of the largest ships calling the ports in almost all regions will change, due to cascading effects. This will imply adaptations of port equipment and infrastructure in these ports to be able to handle these larger ships.

“This will be even more pressing if 24,000 teu container ships would be introduced in 2020, as this would further increase the dimensions of the ships, and thus the required infrastructure adaptations, although a more detailed study would be needed to gauge the exact extent of required changes,” the report concludes.  

The report also makes recommendations to ensure countries and ports’ decisions on accommodation larger vessels aren’t detrimental. These include aligning incentives and costs to public interests – design port dues in such a way that they do not provide incentives for the largest ships – and provide policy support to ports to enhance supply chain productivity and innovation.

The report also recommends collaboration at a regional and cross-port level to help strengthen the collective bargaining position of the landside supply chain.

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