Maersk made an announcement last week that it had signed a USD 1.1. billion newbuilding contract regarding nine 14,000 TEU ships.

The ships in question come with a design intended to provide a large share of flexibility, but they may not meet the flexibility expectations of some, comments Dirk Visser, Netherland-based consultants Dynamar B.V.’s Senior Shipping Consultant.

Maersk has been undergoing moves to strengthen its fleet with hull designs that may be deployed on North-South or East-West trades without having an impact on the consumption of fuel. The reasons behind this derive from the fact that while China still occupies the spot of global manufacturing center, rivals such as Turkey, Mexico and others are steadily growing. Thus, Maersk is getting ready for new trade patterns.

“When I saw the order for the first time in combination with the comments made by Maersk, I made the natural assumption that these nine vessels’ dimensions would make it possible for them to pass through the all new Panama Canal locks – meaning that their breadth should be at maximum 49 meters (48.77 meters if we are to be exact),” comments Visser.

This basically means that Maersk Line could use these nine vessels to operate a Far East-US East Coast all-water through the brand new Panama service. Among the other options provided by the enlarged Panama Canal are: Europe-West Coast South America or U.S. East Coast-West Coast South America.

“When finalizing the order, only the container carriers’ length was specified at 353 meters, but meanwhile there has been confirmation that they will have a 53.3-meter breadth,” adds Visser.

“Thus, they are going to be actually too big to sail along the Panama and are maybe less flexible that initially expected by Maersk Line.”

Nevertheless, there are still a large number of options, where Panama will not be a factor, like Far East-South Africa, the Far East, Far East-Middle East, U.S. East Coast-East Coast South America or Europe.

Provided that some believe that the Panama Canal Authority is to reconsider the allowed vessel-breadth level due to the fact the lock chambers actually have a 54-meter width, it will still not be sufficient for the nine 14,000 TEU vessels, according to Visser.

“There must be room provided in the locks for tugboats to guide the mainline ships in and out, and we harbor no expectations of a potential spectacular upward revision, if any is to actually occur at all.”

CMA CGM placed an order last June for six 14,000 TEU vessels with a 48.2-meter breadth, which are to therefore be NewPanamax. Assumptions point to the fact that the extra capacity will be derived from an extra deck tier for the purposes of empty containers. Thus, it is only natural that the new 14,000 TEU CMA CGM vessels are to provide more flexibility than the ones of Maersk, comments Visser.

The NewPanamax ships like the CMA CGM 14,000 TEU units also need 19-wide ship-to-shore terminal gantry cranes. For the new ships of Maersk there are going to be gantry cranes with a capacity of managing 21 boxes across deck. Visser, however, adds that cranes of this type are not common practice in ports-terminals in the southern hemisphere, which comes as another limitation to the Maersk vessels’ flexibility.