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Star Wars on the river Elbe

It is no secret that shipping lines are battling for market shares, particularly on the key trade between Asia and Europe. That may have been the reason why the Aponte family had what is currently the world’s largest containership (in teu) sail into the port of Hamburg to the theme music from the Star Wars films. The third of 20 units sees MSC clearly banking on volume – and encountering its limits.


«We know what shipping is,» Dittmar Vösterling, the managing director of MSC Germany, said self-confidently, at the reception to celebrate the ­arrival of the MSC Zoe in the port of Hamburg on 1 August. The largest containership in the world sailed into the port of Hamburg on her maiden voyage from Asia to Europe to the sound of the main theme music from Star Wars. A huge crowd gathered on the banks of the river Elbe to welcome the giant of the seven seas. She is owned by the Geneva-based Swiss shipping line and is the third vessel in a series of 20 with an overall capacity to carry 19,224 teu that MSC has ordered. She is 59 m wide and stretches over the length of roughly four football pitches, or 395.4 m.

 

But it was not only the musical accompaniment that made the spectacle film-worthy. The sheer size of the MSC Zoe meant she had to carry out a complicated turning manoeuvre in order to dock at her berth in the Eurogate facility. The stevedores not only loaded and unloaded approximately 4,800 teu there; the quay was also the site for the ceremonial naming of the ship the following day. MSC’s tradition has it that vessels are named after family members. This time around the honour befell the four-year-old granddaughter of Gianluigi Aponte, MSC founder and executive chairman. Family and business are closely intertwined in MSC, as becomes apparent by the fact that Aponte’s daughter Alexa Aponte ­Vago is the MSC Group’s head of finance, and her husband Pierfrancesco Vago the executive chairman of MSC Cruises.

 

Dredging in Hamburg

Even though the ship was welcomed with the suitable pomp and fanfare in Hamburg, the MSC Zoe’s call once again brought the problems that Europe’s third-largest port faces to the fore. The behemoth cannot call at Hamburg fully laden. Because the planned deepening of the river Elbe has failed to clear all of the judicial hurdles in its path, only vessels with a maximum draught of 13.5 m can enter the port, and that only at high tide. This means that a ship of this size cannot call at Hamburg when every one of her slots is occupied.

 

The MSC Zoe and her sister ships, the MSC Oscar and the MSC Oliver, were built by Daewoo Shipbuilding and ­Marine Engineering (DSME), a ­leading South Korean shipyard. The latter two units entered operations in spring. The ship­builder DSME has established a very strong reputation as a manufacturer of ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs). It recently confirmed that will also build another series of box ­giants for ­Maersk, namely six units with a capacity of about 20,000 teu each. They will be delivered by 2017.

Besides Maersk and MSC, the lines CMA CGM, Mitsui OSK Lines as well as OOCL are currently awaiting the delivery of units with similar slot capacities. So the MSC Zoe will have to pass her title of the world’s largest box ship when measured in teu on soon. In terms of overall length, however, A18-class vessels ope­rated by UASC, which are 400 m long, hold the top slot.

 

 

About MSC

The Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) was founded by Gianluigi Aponte in 1970. It is still privately owned today. MSC is the second-largest container shipping line worldwide, after Denmark’s Maersk Line, with which it operates in the 2M alliance.

MSC calls at more than 315 ports on around 200 trades. Its headquarters are in Geneva (Switzerland). Its roughly 24,000 employees work in 480 offices located in 150 countries. Besides MSC Cargo the group also includes MIT MSC Cruises as well as the entities Terminal Investment Limited (TIL), a terminal operator, and Medlog, a multimodal transport service provider.

In 2014 MSC shipped approximately 14.2 million teu. The company expects to handle around 15.4 million teu this year.

Source: International Transport Journal