The International Transport Forum has elaborated a report about the Impact of Mega-Ships directed by Olaf Merk and written by Olaf Merk, Bénédicte Busquet and Raimons Aronieitis et al.

You can read the full Report from the following link. Here the summary with the main conclusions of the report:


Ship size on main trade lines in 2014


Executive Summary

There are cost savings of mega-ships, but these are decreasing and might not even be realized.

Doubling the maximum container ship size over the last decade has reduced total vessel costs per transported container by roughly a third. However, these cost savings are decreasing with size; the cost savings of the newest generation of containerships are four to six times smaller than the savings from the previous round of upsizing. Approximately 60% of the cost savings of the most recent container ships are related to more efficient engines and not to scale. In addition, mega-ship development and the related container fleet capacity growth has taken place despite sluggish growth of world containerized seaborne trade. The massive ordering of new mega-ships has resulted in oversupply of container ships, which will most likely dampen some of the cost savings due to larger ships, as low demand results in fewer savings per transported container.

The transport costs due to larger ships could be substantial. There are size-related fixes to existing infrastructure, such as bridge height, river width/depth, quay wall strengthening, berth deepening, canals/locks and port equipment (crane height, outreach). Mega-ships also require expansion of infrastructure to cater to the higher peaks related to mega-ships; as a result, more physical yard and berth capacity is needed. These annualised transport costs related to mega-ships could amount to US$ 0.4 billion, according to our rough and tentative estimations. Roughly a third of the additional costs might be related to equipment, a third to dredging and another third to port infrastructure and port hinterland costs.

decreasing cost savings

Decreasing cost savings of bigger vessels


A substantial share of the dredging, infrastructure and hinterland connection costs are costs to the public sector in many countries.

Supply chain risks related to bigger container ships are rising. There are concerns about insurability of mega-ships and the costs of potential salvage in case of accidents. Mega-ships also lead to service and cargo concentration, reduced choice and more limited supply chain resilience, especially since bigger ships have coincided with increased cooperation of the main shipping lines in four alliances.

Public policies need to better take account of this and act accordingly. Key question is how the costs for the public sector imposed by mega-ships could be covered. Many ports and countries have, either accidentally or on purpose, encouraged the development of mega-ships. More balanced decision making would be needed, with clearer alignment of incentives to public interests, policy support to enhance supply chain productivity, more regional collaboration and the creation of an appropriate forum for a discussion between liner companies and all other relevant transport actors.

Further increase of maximum container ship size would raise transport costs. So one could wonder if such increases would be desirable. The potential cost savings to carriers appear to be fairly marginal, but infrastructure upsizing costs could be phenomenal. Introduction of one hundred 24,000 TEU ships in 2020 would require substantial investments in those places where these ships would be first introduced (Far East, North Europe, Mediterranean), but would also – via cascading effects – result in introduction of 19,000 TEU ships in North America and 14,000 TEU ships in South America and Africa. This would imply additional investment requirements there as well.


Port Jierarchies in national policies

Port hierarchies in national policies


Container ships have grown incessantly over recent decades due to a continuous search for economies of scale by shipping lines. In the past this has contributed to decreasing maritime transport costs that facilitated global trade. However, the increase in container ship sizes and the speed with which that happens has consequences for the rest of the transport chain. They require infrastructure adaptations and productivity levels that increase costs for port operators, port authorities and other stakeholders in the supply chain. Moreover, mega-ships cause peaks in ports and put a strain on hinterland transports. Has a tipping point been reached, where further increases in ship size result in disproportionally higher port and hinterland costs? What are the impacts of mega-ships for the whole transport chain, and what could be done to optimise the use of mega-ships and mitigate negative impacts?



Policy recommendations


Make more balanced decisions on accommodating mega-ships

Countries and ports frequently make decisions that seem positive on an individual level, but could be detrimental at a collective level. Countries and ports need to consider the costs of accommodating bigger ships in comparison to the overall economic benefits, including port income, savings to local shippers/importers/exporters, and whether such savings will be sufficient to pay for such costs.

Align incentives and costs to public interests and recover costs of mega-ships

Correct any accidental subsidies or misaligned policies that encourage upsizing, or that provide public resources to container shipping without appropriate recovery of costs. Measures could include:

    • Design port dues in such a way that they do not provide incentives for the largest ships. In addition, introduce mechanisms to recover dredging costs on users, for example via fairway dues and harbour maintenance fees related to ship size.
    • Clarify application of state aid rules to the ports sector and increase financial transparency of the ports sector, to avoid that the public sector picks up the bill imposed by shipping lines.
    • Link state aid to the shipping sector (such as the tonnage tax2) to commitments of the sector to contribute to covering costs related to mega-ships (such as additional dredging needs).
    • Provide policy support to ports to enhance supply chain productivity and innovation
    • Policymakers should work with ports and terminal operators to enhance productivity, so as to make best use of their assets. This could include:
    • Innovation, technical development, workforce training and skills upgrading. Where possible, public policies could reform labour practices and procedures to enhance workforce flexibility.
    • Optimise the use of infrastructure capacity, e.g. by truck appointment systems and incentives for port truck moves during night or at weekends.
    • Release peaks at port terminals via dry ports, where space in ports is constrained.
    • Consider upsizing of hinterland transport modes, such as allowing for larger trains, double stacking and larger trucks.
    • Consider collaboration at a regional and cross-port level As container shipping lines increasingly consolidate and cooperate, so could countries, port authorities and regulators at a strategic planning level. This could help strengthen the collective bargaining position of the landside supply chain. Regional or cross-port alignment and coordination on policy could help ensure proper allocation of resources while protecting the interest of the supply chainusers. Such collaboration could take place with respect to the following areas:
    • Regulation of competition and policy options, which could include whether or how to regulate ship size.
    • More coordination between port authorities on future port development and investment, which could include port mergers in fragmented port systems to increase bargaining power, where this is possible without compromising competition.
    • More port and freight planning at national and supra-national level, to focus investment in port hinterland links on a limited number of ports. In the case of the European Union this could mean reducing the number of core ports in the TEN-T network.
    • Stimulate an appropriate forum for discussion between liners and transport stakeholders
    • Container lines have typically not consulted anyone on new mega-ships, before they ordered these.
    • A constructive discussion would need to take place with the relevant transport stakeholders, including governments, regulators, port authorities and all interested constituents. The objective could be to facilitate an exchange of views, an understanding of objectives and plans, and ultimately better coordination to ensure optimum supply chain configuations, including optimized use of mega-ships.
joint ventures

Joint ventures of global port terminal operators


Container ships are th work-horses of the globalized economy: although they represent only one eighth of the total world fleet they are essential for the transport of consumer goods around the world.

Container ships have grown bigger at a rapid pace over the last decades, faster than any other ship type.

In one decade, the average capacity of a container ship has doubled. The largest container ship at this moment can carry 19,200 containers, but ships with capacity of more than 21,000 containers have been ordered and will be operational in 2017.

Larger container ships have ge
nerated cost savings for carriers, decreased maritime transport costs and as such facilitated global trade in the past. However, larger ships require adaptations of infrastructure, equipment and cause larger peaks in container traffic in ports, with wide-ranging impacts.

This report assesses if the benefits of the current mega container ships still outweigh their costs to the whole transport chain.

This report is part of the OECD/ITF Mega-Ship project. Other publications that will be released within the framework of this project include case studies of Hamburg, Gothenburg and Jakarta.