This year marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of, what I consider to be, the first container vessel of the current wave of “mega vessels” into the industry. From the cold, and often bleak city of Odense in Denmark came the Emma Maersk, named after the late wife of Maersk McKinney Moller.
For about 10 years, Maersk Line had been building their “so-called” S-Type vessels. These started with the Regina Maersk, at approximately 6000 TEU. As more and more of these vessels were built, they started to get longer and wider but, according to Maersk Line, never bigger than 6600 TEU. These ships were scaled up versions of the typical container vessels of the time, with a combined accommodation and engine room about 2/3rds of the vessel length from the bow. Other than the size differences, the design was more or less the same.
The Emma Maersk was a radical departure from the S-Types. The most obvious difference was that he accommodation and engine room had been moved forwards to the mid-point of the vessel. This meant that they had a propeller shaft of approximately 150m in length, still the longest in the world.
By moving the bridge to the midships, Maersk gained an advantage when it came to loading the vessel. With the bridge further aft, the IMO Line of Sight rules restricted how many containers could be loaded onto the forward bays. Now they had a vessel which not only had the midship advantage, they also had a bridge height advantage. They accommodation/bridge were much taller than the S-Types.
The Emma Maersk was truly a game changer, and not only for the future of vessel design. These were the first vessels to load 22 rows of containers across each bay. The building of these vessels also triggered the redesign of quay cranes in the major ports. At the time of construction, there were no terminals that could handle that many rows across without having to turn the vessel around during operations. The message from Maersk was simple “if you want us to call at your terminal with these vessels, you need to upgrade”.
Given the strength of Maersk Line at the time, terminals knew that they either had to hand over the money for new cranes, or risk losing the biggest player in the market.
Officially, the Emma Maersk was declared as having a nominal TEU capacity of 11,000 TEU. For reasons that I still am not totally clear on, Maersk always under-declared the vessel capacities. Over the years her TEU increased, partly due to changes in the lashing calculations and partly through design changes. Her eventual, and true TEU capacity was around 15,500. She even appeared on the Danish 20 Kroner coin.
That may not sound so impressive these days, with the 18-20,000 TEU vessels that are being churned out of shipyards in Asia, but in 2006, this was unheard of and it took a long time before any other carrier built a bigger vessel (See Age of the Mega Vessels).
The 10 year life of the Emma Maersk hasn’t always been plain sailing. Before she even touched the water, a fire at the shipyard destroyed most of the accommodation block and bridge. The original accommodation block was removed from the vessel and replaced with the one originally destined for the second vessel in the series.
The other major incident occurred when the vessels’150m long propeller shaft and engine room flooded just as she was entering the Suez Canal. Through a combination of luck and extreme skill by the vessel crew, they managed to get her onto the berth in Port Said Terminal before the engine room completely flooded. The full accident report can be found here.
Despite these setbacks, I still have something of an attachment to these vessels as I was a stowage planner in London at the time and had the privilege to stow some of these vessels on their maiden and subsequent voyages until I stopped working as a stowage planner.