Africa should get ready for the latest generation of container ships

Over the past few years, a new generation of ultra-large container vessels has come online. Container ships like the Madrid Maersk, COSCO Shipping Universe and OOCL Hong Kong can carry over 20,000 TEU of cargo. These giant vessels measure over 1,300 feet in length, with beams of between 160 and 190 feet and a draft of 52 feet.

In the past five decades, the capacity of container vessels has increased by around 1,500 percent, doubling over the past ten years alone. The exponential growth of container vessels can be attributed to shipping lines' focus on economies of scale. The increase in capacity relates to significant changes in the length, depth, and beam of a ship.

However, the extreme size of the new generation of container vessels is creating a new set of physical problems. For example, the Ever Given blocked the Suez Canal - and a large portion of global trade - for six days in March. Furthermore, draft restrictions (like those at the Panama Canal) limit where these ultra-large vessels can go. Seaports are not evolving at the same pace as shipping lines and container vessels; thus, not all ports are deep enough or well-equipped enough to accommodate the latest big ships.


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