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Post Panamax vessels: How big can they go?

Economic and operational considerations will be the ultimate barriers on post-Panamax vessel sizes and designs of the future since there are no technical reasons preventing box ships from getting larger. This is one conclusion reached by London-based Drewry Shipping Consultants in a new research report, Post-Panamax Containerships - The Next Generation.

Although liner companies can realise significant cost savings per slot on both a capital and operational (voyage) basis by deploying larger ships, in reality things are never quite as simple. Poor slot utilisation and/or the need to go out and buy more cargo at lower rates can have a profound impact on carriers' revenues and lead to lower profitability.

Drewry says that larger ships can actually raise an operator's cost base as additional sales and marketing staff may have to be employed-particularly if new trades are targeted to provide the additional cargo necessary to fill the vessels-and operations reconfigured.

Larger ships, for instance, will be forced to call at fewer ports with the result that the volume of cargo that has to be transhipped and relayed, whether by feeder vessel and/or overland, will increase, thereby raising overall distribution costs.

Hence, large vessels will only work, concludes Drewry, if multiple routes can be aggregated successfully into single and seamless service structures and good load factors maintained without recourse to higher levels of transhipment activity.

And with those conclusions, Drewry says it believes that the main liner companies will continue to invest in larger tonnage and that for East/West arterial routes 9,000 to 10,000 TEU ships will become a more popular choice over the next four years. These vessels will reflect current design parameters and will be powered by a single main engine, with a power output of 90,000bhp plus, generating a minimum 25-knot service speed. Compared with 4,000 TEU Panamax, they offer operators potential cost savings of over 35%.

However, anything beyond 10,000 TEU will have to be twin-engined-particularly, if a 25-knot service speed is to be maintained - and for similar economies of scale to be achieved a minimum loading capacity of 12,000 TEU will be required. It is thought that a few vessels of this size, which will be able to load at least 21 containers across the weather deck, will enter service during the latter part of this decade (2008/2009), once the ports/terminal operating companies have made the necessary investments in new equipment, berths, etc to handle them.

Post-Panamax Containerships - The Next Generation also assesses the structure of the existing fleet, which now accounts for 15% of all cellular ships deployed, and the orderbook. By 2003, post-Panamax ships are expected to account for almost 25% of slots in service.

In addition, the report details the response and design challenges that face the ports and the need for deeper access channels. The 146-page report, which contains more than 70 statistical charts and tables, is published by Drewry Shipping Consultants and costs 瘦595, including postage to anywhere in the world.

For further information, contact: Paula Puszet, - Marketing Director, Drewry Shipping Consultants, UK. Tel: 020 7538-0191 Fax: 020 7987-9396 Email: