The container ship is a relatively modern invention. The first containership, Ideal-X, was launched in 1956. It measured 159.7m long and carried just 58 containers, along with a regular load of 15,000 tons of bulk petroleum.
By comparison, modern container ships dwarf the Ideal-X, with many of the ships constructed in the last 5 years are well over double the length, while being able to carry over 650 times as many containers. One such ship is the OOCL Hong Kong.
At the time of her construction, the OOCL Hong Kong was the largest container ship ever built. In addition to an enormous length of 399.9 meters, she carries an estimated 21,413 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU), an approximate measurement of cargo capacity, based on the volume of a 20-foot-long shipping container.
Based on the 2016 classification by Prokopowicz and Berg-Andreassen, the OOCL Hong Kong is classified as an Ultra Large container ship and is near the limit in size that the Suez Canal and Singapore Strait allow.
When delivered in 2017, she held the record for length and was only the third ship to surpass the 21,000 TEU mark. Progress continues, of course, and now there are over 90 vessels capable of carrying such quantities or more. The OOCL Hong Kong was the first of six identical ships ordered by OOCL in April 2015, costing $950 Million (US).
The OOCL lost the title of longest container ship the following year to the COSCO Shipping Universe, and TEU capacity for more recent ships has jumped to almost 24,000 TEU.
The driving force for the ever-increasing size of these vessels is the increasing competition and upwards pressure in costs. By using larger vessels, shipping companies obtain financial benefits thanks to economy of scale, resulting in lower overheads than operating multiple smaller ships.
OOCL Hong Kong and her sister ships operate the route from East Asia to Northern Europe via the Suez Canal, in a 77-day round trip that reaches Shanghai, Ningbo, Yantian, Singapore, Felixstowe, Rotterdam, and Gdańsk.
She is powered by an inline two-stroke engine, 11-cylinder MAN Diesel & Turbo G-type 11G95ME-C9 engine. The OOCL Hong Kong can achieve 21 knots thanks to this powerful engine, although her cruising speed is a more modest 14.6 knots.
The engine design uses less fuel, resulting in cost savings and lower carbon dioxide emissions than older models. A high-quality cylinder oil lubricant is used to ensure the engine is fully protected. The vessel carries 14,904 cubic meters of fuel.
There are ten 35-tonne mooring winches on board the vessel and electrically driven anchor windlasses compatible with a 142mm-caliber anchor chain.
In addition to this deck machinery, Omnitech Electronics’ digital shaft alignment monitoring system is installed, allowing real-time monitoring of the propeller shaft alignment and bearings.
Will the future of container ships have room for further increases in length or overall load? With restrictions on size in the Suez Canal and Singapore Strait, it seems unlikely. But with economy of scale benefits, who knows how big these vessels may become for companies willing to take the longer routes around the continents rather than through them.