How big was it? …

Once upon a time … many, many years ago … there was a ship so-o-o-o big …

“How big was it?

It was so-o-o-o big that it couldn’t ever be filled up. No. It wasn’t Noah’s Ark. That one was filled up. This one was even bigger, and it was so-o-o big that it couldn’t even pass through the Panama or Suez Canals. In fact, it couldn’t even navigate parts of the English Channel.

Now that’s big. And this is no fairy tale. That vessel was real and had several names as it passed from one disappointed owner to another. It was completed and delivered in 1981, and at 1,502′ 7” it was the largest ship ever built. It was finally purchased by Fred Olsen and renamed the Knock Nevis. It was so-o-o-o big, and so inflexible, that it just wasn’t suitable for any of the tasks its owners had in mind. It was eventually converted into a floating storage and offloading unit serving an oil field in Qatar, and was finally put to rest – in a Bangladesh scrap yard, no doubt.

So, is bigger better? In most cases, no. Bigger in every case is just more expensive, but try telling that to the likes of Maersk, Mediterranean Shipping, CMA CGM, etc. The officials in those shipping companies are playing the game of upmanship, each trying to be the firstest with the mostest.

Wasn’t it Neil Davidson of Drewry Shipping Consultants who called attention to to the operational and commercial limitations that reduce the effectiveness of mega-ships? That was back in 2004 at Navis World in San Francisco. He had in mind the shortcomings of the Knock Nevis and predicted that carriers would have a difficult time filling large vessels, thereby cancelling out the “economies of scale” these vessels were supposed to produce.

He also cited the limited number of ports able to service these larger vessels because of harbor depths and the inability of these vessels to accommodate importers and exporters who preferred more direct and less costly service. He emphasized the need for smaller container handling ports in closer proximity to end users. “The bigger the ship, the more transshipment and feedering you need, and that costs money,” were his exact words.

And those exact words pretty much sum up what U.S. Transportation Secretary Mineta said a few months earlier. He made it clear that the U.S. needed 200 more container handling terminals – smaller and closer to the end user – and later on, in April of 2010, Secretary LaHood opened the door by unveiling a new initiative, henceforth to be known as “America’s Marine Highway” program. It was the new name for Short Sea Shipping.

They knew all about the Knock Nevis and Neil Davidson’s predictions, and they knew the simple solution. Smaller ships delivering to smaller container terminals within easy reach of the end user.
It’s what we’ve been preaching for the past dozen years or so.