Auld Lanxiety

Today is December 31st. The last day in the year 2010 and the day we post this final commentary in our 25th Volume.

We’ve been asked to provide answers to a number of questions over the past few years, and now it’s our turn to pose one or two for our readers.

First question: The “Great Ships 2010” issue of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News provided the specifications for the new Royal Caribbean International’s cruise ships “Allure of the Seas” and “Oasis of the Seas”. Those sister-ships – the world’s largest cruise ships – are 1,184 feet in length and displace 225,000 gross tons. The specs show that the maximum draft of those sister-ships, by the way, is 30.5 feet.

So if a 225,000 ton vessel draws 30.5 feet, why are port officials demanding billions of dollars for dredging programs that will deepen their harbors to depths of more than 40 feet? The 10,000 to 12,000 TEU container ships now being added to carriers’ fleets – as big as those ships are – are nowhere near the size of the above-mentioned 225,000 ton cruise ships. Is it possible that there are sweetheart deals involved?

Do the math. If the average weight of a TEU is 15 tons, then 12,000 TEUs would tip the scales at about 180,000 tons. (But don’t hold your breath – no container ship will ever deliver that many containers to a U.S. port.) 180,000 tons is less than the 225,000 tons that draw only 30.5 feet, isn’t it? So why aren’t the taxpayers making inquiries? Why aren’t they up in arms?

Second question: The Asians call 2010 “The Year of the Sea Giants”, because so many of the container ships delivered in 2010 were 10,000-TEUers or more. Remember this, though. Those vessels were ordered as far back as 2006 when the “corporate fanning of feathers” held sway.

The chickens came home to roost in 2010. Port authorities are pretending that this influx of monstrosities is an indication that the “recession” is over – and that those seagoing leviathans will be disgorging enormous numbers of TEUs at U.S. ports in the months to come. Not so. Those giants – already condemned to a life of “slow-steaming” – have already been assigned to Asia-Europe routes because Americans are not the big spenders they used to be and are not demanding products from Asian suppliers . We’re unemployed and broke, that’s why.

But like the fat-dumb-and-happy ship buyers who were oblivious to the world’s developing economic crisis a few years ago, U.S. port officials are trying to gauge U.S. taxpayers for the cost of ill-conceived dredging programs. We don’t need dredging programs. We need to build small, efficient – and patented – container ships in revitalized U.S. shipyards, with no foreign competition.

Millions of Americans will be employed to build those smaller ships which will service hundreds of small U.S. ports in the very backyards of millions of newly-employed U.S. shoppers.