European ports ready for the Maersk giants

APMT’s Bremerhaven terminal is prepared for the Triple-E. Photo: Maersk
APMT’s Bremerhaven terminal is prepared for the Triple-E. Photo: Maersk
Feeder and gantry cranes being assembled at APMT’s Maasvlakte 2 terminal. Photo: Peter Barker
Feeder and gantry cranes being assembled at APMT’s Maasvlakte 2 terminal. Photo: Peter Barker
The giant boxship arrives at Gdansk. Photo: Dariusz Dulian – Port of Gdansk Authority
The giant boxship arrives at Gdansk. Photo: Dariusz Dulian – Port of Gdansk Authority
The previous world’s largest container ship, the Maersk E-Class, will gradually be replaced by the Triple-E. Photo: Peter Barker
The previous world’s largest container ship, the Maersk E-Class, will gradually be replaced by the Triple-E. Photo: Peter Barker
Maersk Mc-Kinney Møller alongside at Gothenburg. Photo: Port of Gothenburg
Maersk Mc-Kinney Møller alongside at Gothenburg. Photo: Port of Gothenburg

European container ports are now gaining first-hand experience of Maersk’s Triple-E container ships with delivery and entry into service of Maersk Mc-Kinney Møller, first of twenty such vessels on order.

Since the introduction of the container, the size of ships employed in their transportation has grown inexorably. Ten years ago ships such as the Axel Maersk, at around 9,000 TEU were among the largest such vessels afloat. The following decade saw the capacities of container ships increasing by around 1,000 TEU annually.

Maersk has lead the way with container ship development but the Triple-E is about more than just stretching and widening a previous model. The Triple-E designation stands for efficiency, economy of scale and environment. Continuing a recent trend, they are designed to operate at a lower speed than the previous norm. Maersk claim reducing speed from the traditional 22 to 25 knots, down to around 20 knots through adoption of twin super-efficient engines, with large propellers running at lower revolutions will reduce CO2 emissions by some 50% compared to industry average on the Asia-Europe trade.

Economy of scale involves increasing capacity to 18,000 TEU from the 15,500 TEU Emma Maersk (E Class), the previous record holder. Environmental impact is quoted as 3kg of CO2 per ton, per kilometre of goods moved compared to 45kg with road and 560kg with air freight. The initial order, for ten vessels with DSME Shipyard in Okpo, South Korea was later extended to twenty, to be delivered over the next two years.

The story of the Triple-E is about more than just the ships however; its size restricts it to the Asia-Europe trade. Its 59m beam excludes it from the current 32m maximum of the Panama Canal and will still be too wide after the canal’s refurbishment. They can however navigate the Suez Canal which has a maximum draught and breadth capacity of 20m and 77.5m respectively.


Ports that will handle the Triple-E have obviously had to grow apace with the increasing size of vessels. Industry pundits talk about even larger capacity ships in the future but at this stage in the story it is factors including port capabilities that influence the size and load factors of this latest class rather than dimensions of canals etc.

The gradual development of container ships has over time allowed ports and terminals to adapt in a similarly progressive manner. As ships have got bigger, so the physical limits of individual ports expansion capacities have meant fewer locations able to host these vessels in a fully laden condition. Factors taken into account include increased vessel draught, length (including for swinging) and ship-to-shore gantry cranes able to reach higher and out over the extra rows of containers.

Such routes do have established port rotations in place but circumstances including trading demands at any particular time will occasionally result in diversions to other ports, so it will be a changing story over time. Ports of call for the maiden voyage of the Maersk Mc-Kinney Møller were as follows. Following the name-giving on 14 June, the voyage began in earnest the following day with calls at Busan and Kwangyang in South Korea. Following stops at Shanghai, Ningbo and Yantian in China and a final Asian stop at Tanjung Pelepas in Malaysia the journey to Europe commenced on 29 July.

The vessel’s maiden grandtour of Europe started on 16 August with a VIP welcome at Rotterdam followed by calls at Antwerp, Bremerhaven, Gdansk, Aarhus and Gothenburg. The Triple-E will gradually replace the 15,500 TEU capacity E Class series and, until all nine or ten vessels required to operate the route are in place, loadings will be restricted to that of the E Class, resulting in phased and gradual introduction for both ports and the market itself. One feature with a bearing on the cargo handling facilities is the extra height and width compared with the E Class. At 23 rows wide the Triple-E is one row wider than the E Class and initially, one factor with reduced loading is that they will only load 22 rows wide, something that will change no doubt as load factors increase and shoreside crane capabilities are able to handle 23 rows wide.


One of the best prepared ports at the Europe end of the chain is Rotterdam, APM Terminals having a notable presence at Maasvlakte (1) in the Europahaven. The terminal has a capacity of 2.7m TEU over 100 hectares, 1,600m of berth space and a maximum alongside depth of 16.65m. Cargo handling facilities include 13 Post-Panamax ship-to-shore gantry cranes (22 container rows wide reach) all with a twin lift capability.

It was at APMT’s Maasvlakte terminal that the Maersk Mc-Kinney Møller started its circuit at the Europe end of the maiden voyage. A good first impression would of course have been in everyone’s minds so probably with some pride following the newcomer’s visit, APM reported setting a new terminal record with the vessel, with berth productivity of 215 gross moves per hour and crane productivity of 37.1 gross mover per hour.

Container handling at Rotterdam will move to another level when APMT’s new terminal at Maasvlakte 2 opens for business in November 2014. Hailed as the most advanced in the world, a high level of automation is built into the terminal’s design, including ship-to-shore cranes operated remotely from a nearby building.

Phase one of APMT’s Maasvlakte 2 terminal comprises a 1,000m main quay and 500m long barge/feeder quay. The terminal will have an eventual capacity of 4.5m TEU and at the heart of phase one will be eight Super-Post-Panamax cranes. Spreaders will be capable of lifting to a height of 69m (52m above the quay and 17m below). Reach will be 72m and significantly, with the Triple-E accommodating containers 23 rows wide, it is a sign of the direction Maersk Group consider the trend is heading that the cranes at Maasvlakte 2 are capable of serving ships with containers loaded 25 rows wide. The term future-proof clearly applies to Maasvlakte 2.


Next stop after Rotterdam for the Maersk Mc-Kinney Møller was Bremerhaven’s NTB North Sea Terminal in which APMT is a 50% shareholder. Another port well prepared for the future, Bremerhaven boasts 18 Super-Post-Panamax cranes.

Port of Aarhus has been receiving weekly calls from Maersk’s AE10 route ships since 2002, the route particularly important for the Danish agricultural industry dependent on markets in Asia. It is natural therefore that this Scandinavian port be included in the loop, the terminal offering handling gear including four Super-Post-Panamax, and three Post-Panamax cranes. Aarhus is also currently investing in widening the approach channel making for a safer operation under severe weather conditions.

Gdansk, the only port in the Baltic to host the Maersk Mc-Kinney Møller, is an important location, now considered a hub port and about to enter the group of hundred largest container ports in the world. Deepwater Container Terminal Gdansk has been operational since 2007 and, as with most ports, has plans to increase capacity on the back of potential opportunities from the likes of the Triple-E. The terminal area covers 44ha with storage capacity for 22,000 TEU, the 650m long quay served by five Post-Panamax cranes.

The final European stop for the ship (other than a further visit to Rotterdam on the return leg) was Gothenburg. An unusual feature with the APM Terminal at Gothenburg is the equal split between imports and exports to and from Asia, 60% of Sweden’s import and export of containers passing through the port. APM Terminals have operated the container terminal at Gothenburg since January 2012 and have a SEK 800m investment programme in place to upgrade facilities, including three new Super-Post-Panamax cranes adding to the existing eight cranes, three of which are Super-Post-Panamax.

As mentioned, a number of other European ports are already well prepared to accommodate increasingly large container ships. It must be remembered that while Maersk’s Triple-E is currently attracting attention there are now significant numbers of ships operating at around 13,000 to 15,000 TEU, only marginally smaller than the Triple-E. As Maersk was rightly soaking up the attention however, United Arab Shipping Company announced an order for five 18,000 TEU ships.

Throughout the industry, eyes particularly in the UK will be on DP World’s London Gateway terminal, due to commence operation later in 2013. A 1,500 acre disused brownfield site has been transformed into a PortCentric integrated terminal that will eventually comprise 2,700m of quay with six berths. Twenty four ship-to-shore cranes will be in use with a capacity of 3.5m TEU annually and significantly, able to accommodate ships with containers 24 rows wide. The UK container port scene is currently undergoing change due partly to the cascading down of displaced ships resulting in relatively smaller ports being required to handle bigger ships (perhaps with access channel depth implications) and of course the London Gateway effect. The Triple-E ripples will over time extend far beyond just finding ports capable of letting them in.

By Peter Barker

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