SAN FRANCISCO - The global container trade will increase about 6 percent a year over the next five years, but marine terminal capacity is scheduled to increase only 3.3 percent annually, according to an industry analyst at Drewry Shipping Consultants.
The global container trade will total about 600 million TEUs this year, up about 6 percent year-over-year, said Neil Davidson, Drewry's senior adviser for ports. While not spectacular, that growth rate will result in a significant increase in volume given the large base.
Speaking at the Navis World 2012 Conference in San Francisco, Davidson said the relentless growth in vessel size would strain the capacity of many ports that have inadequate harbor depths and container terminals that are too small to handle vessels with capacities ranging from 13,000 to 18,000 20-foot containers.
A number of large load-center ports in Europe, Northeast Asia and the West Coast of North America have drafts of 50 feet and terminals with a the capacity to handle 1 million TEUs or more per year, which is quickly becoming the standard for working new-generation container ships.
Terminal capacity expansion in Europe and South Asia will be sufficient to accommodate the projected growth in container volume, but projected demand through 2017 will be greater than the marine terminal expansion projected for North America, Asia, Latin America and Australia, Davidson said.
Most of the largest ships today call at ports in Asia, Europe and the west coast of North America. The container ship order book, however, guarantees there will be a steady stream of new ships ranging 13,000-TEUs, the largest ships that will be able to transit the enlarged Panama Canal, to 18,000 TEUs, the largest vessels afloat today.
The natural cascading of vessels from the east-west trades to the north-south trades means terminals in most countries eventually will have to accommodate the mega-ships, Davidson said.
Marine terminals of the future will need cranes with a reach of 21 or 22 containers. Each terminal must have three to five of these super-post-Panamax cranes, berths with a length of at least 1,300 feet, 50-foot harbor depths and container yards and inland infrastructure capable of accommodating 6,000 container moves from a single vessel in 24 hours.
“The size of the discharge gets very large very quickly,” Davidson said.
Although container vessels are getting ever larger in terms of capacity, they are not getting longer, which means terminals will be limited as to how many cranes they can use to work each vessel. The key to handling large vessels will be to increase crane productivity, Davidson said. For example, working an 18,000-TEU ship with seven cranes requires consistent productivity of 26 container moves per hour per crane, but if only five cranes are used to work the same vessel, each crane must move 37 containers per hour, he said.