Ever aground; Evergreen ship stuck in Chesapeake Bay

March 28, 2022 /

It’s only been just over a year since the Ever Given, a giant 20,000 TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit) capacity container ship, ran aground in the Suez canal causing trade chaos for a week until it was freed. And now another of Evergreen’s massive, albeit half the size of the Ever Given, has run aground in Chesapeake Bay while leaving Baltimore. While it’s not a hazard to other shipping like when the Suez was blocked, it still begs the question: are these container ships getting too big?

Going Nowhere

The Ever Forward, the irony, is a 100,000 ton container ship is still aground after nearly 3 weeks. After departing Baltimore on the March 13th the tracking data would indicate it missed a turn while in the deep shipping channel. It’s still not clear if this was a mechanical failure or human error, but either way experts are estimating that the dredging effort to free the vessel won’t see it move anytime before April.

So are container ships becoming too large?

Advantages of 14,000+ TEU ships

These ultra-large container ships have obvious economic advantages. Their size means that more containers can be loaded on at a time and reducing the number of journey’s needed to deliver the same number of containers. This in turn means that costs are reduced for both the producer and consumer of goods across the world.

Additionally, the usage of these massive vessels actually helps the development of smaller economies as ships like these have more capacity and are actively looking to sell this space to make their journeys more profitable. This competition will also help to drive the amount of seaborne-trade and increase the need to more ships like these.

Disadvantages of ultra-large container ships

While being seriously impressive, not all container ports are capable of berthing and handling these ships. The larger the vessel the longer the wait times for docking, loading, unloading and departure as well as needing more resources (tugs, harbour pilots, space between other ships) to get an ultra-large ship in and out of port.

Additionally the facilities (cranes and dockside space) aren’t able to load/unload and store the containers that these monsters transport as their sheer size complicates the process.

While having extra capacity over smaller ships, the desire to fill them may lead to price fluctuations throughout the year, which will be passed onto the consumer.

Will we see fewer of these giants in future?

Ultimately no, the largest container ships at 24,000 TEU were floated out late last year and are expected to enter into service with Evergreen in May. The economies of scale help to keep the worlds goods cheaper and more available to consumers. They’re considered one of the most important recent developments in the shipping industry.

What will changed is how and where they’re used. It’s expected to see them limited to major hubs that will allow for distribution of their containers to smaller ports using ships of 3,000 or less. These ‘Feeder’ ships are a crucial part of the hub-and-spoke model that much of the world’s trade is built around as it helps lower costs as well as emissions.

The largest containers ships that transport everyday goods around the world are an essential tool in the global logistics model, without them we’d potentially have increased costs and wait times for goods. What will change is the regulations that will outline how these massive vessels operate in confined areas. This might happen slowly, but it will certainly be sped up by incidents like Chesapeake Bay or Suez, and should be brought in as quickly as possible to minimise the future impact of ships like these getting stuck.

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