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Do Aesthetics Matter?

Now this isn’t something I would normally write about because it has absolutely nothing to do with how the container shipping world works but sometimes it’s worth taking a step back and seeing something from a different viewpoint.

Container ships are never going to be the prettiest looking ships in the world, that’s not the point of them. They are there to transport containers around the globe so that you get your Ikea furniture or latest gadget when you want it. Does it matter whether the ship was sleek and aerodynamic or not? Probably not.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be staying in a hotel on the banks of the Elbe River in Hamburg. It had fantastic views over the river and I had the opportunity to watch a number of large container ships coming and going. The one that struck me the most was the NYK Blue Jay as she came down the river. Looking at the accommodation block you could see that there was more than just “function” going on. She was designed to look as good as a container ship can be, there was “form” as well as function. Clearly her designers had been given the freedom to create something that was more than just practical.

I’d contrast the NYK Blue Jay (and her sisters) with the APL Raffles (and her sisters). They have to be the least imaginative vessels I think I have ever seen. The accommodation “block” (literally) is supposed to be an anti-piracy measure. So far as I can tell, the pirates are deterred when they see how god-awful ugly the vessels are and presumably turn around and flee.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea to design a vessel to make it harder for pirates to gain control, but I am saying that it’s possible to have both the protection needed and, at least some attempt to be a little bit creative at the same time. A classic example would be the P&O Nedlloyd Shackleton class that I sailed on when I was still at sea. They had a design that meant the bridge could not be accessed from outside the accommodation but they still managed to pull it off without looking hideous.

Hopefully, now that CMA CGM has taken over APL, we won’t see any more of these awful designs. There are some vessels out there that have similar designs to the APL Raffles (I’m talking to Evergreen here) but they, just about, manage to pull it off by adding a splash of colour to the top of the bridge.

Obviously, I know it make no difference at all what the ship looks like as to whether the vessel can carry containers or not but sometimes it would be nice to see a little bit of effort (and probably money) to inject a little creativity in there and differentiate these vessels from the boring box shaped world around them.

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