The principle of economies of scale is fundamental to maritime transportation economics as the larger the ship, the lower the cost per unit transported. This trend has particularly been apparent in bulk and containerised shipping. Since the 1950’s the size and capacity of the containership increased from 500 to 25,000 TEU’s (Twenty-foot equivalent unit) – see table belo
The TEU is referred to as the container which has been the driver of intermodal transportation and its homogeneity means the easy handling of the container between shipping, rail and road. Marc Levinson in his book ‘The Box’ outlined its importance:
‘The value of this utilitarian object lies not in the what it is, but in how it is used. The container is at core of a highly automated system for moving goods from anywhere, to anywhere, with a minimum cost and complication on the way’.
The global containership fleet 2000 – 2021
The trend over the last 20 years is to increase the TEU capacity by building larger ships. The total number of ships in 2000 was 2,606, with the average ship being able to transport 1749 TEU’s. By 2020 the global capacity number of ships increased to 5337 vessels with an average ship being able to transport 4352 TEU’s – see chart. Those containerships that have a capacity of over 2,000 TEU operate in the long-distance trade routes and account for over 89% of the world’s container fleet. Shorter containerships up to 2,000 TEUs made up the other 11% and they operate as feeder services and in short sea shipping.
Of late there has been significant growth in the size of containerships especially the large (ULCS) and mega large containerships (MGX-24) with an overall capacity of between 10,000 – 23,000 TEU. This equates to 573 ships and accounts for 36% of the total capacity of the container fleet – see chart below.
Fleet Capacity Breakdown by TEU size range.
The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger 2nd Edition – (2016). By Marc Levinson
ALPHALINER – Monthly Monitor – January 2020