New-generation giants pose huge challenge for HK ports

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 October, 2005, 12:00am

Hong Kong's harbour should be deep enough to accommodate the next generation of container ships, but their huge size will strain local port facilities.

South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries began taking orders yesterday for the next generation of giant container ships, which will offer 30 per cent more declared capacity than any vessel currently being built in the class.

The unprecedented twin-engine design of the new 13,000 teu (20-foot equivalent unit) Hyundai ship will allow it to call at ports such as Hong Kong, where water depth could be an issue. Even when fully loaded, the vessel will only require 13.5 metres of water, as its two smaller propeller engines draw less than a single large one.

Its beam, however, will be a record 54.2 metres or 21 containers across - too wide for many cargo cranes. And at a staggering 382 metres long, it will be too big for the single berths at Hong Kong's older container terminals.

Hyundai, the world's biggest shipyard by sales and production, joined German classification society Germanischer Lloyd in Hamburg to unveil blueprints for the ship, which brokers say could cost as much as US$150 million per unit.

Hyundai did not reveal the price but the partners said yesterday the design had passed all technical requirements. Even if ordered today, the first vessel would not be ready until 2009 due to a backlog of orders at the yard.

'[We] are showing just how big container carriers will be in the near future,' the partners said in a statement. 'All the relevant calculations have been carried out and the design completely approved by Germanischer Lloyd. [Hyundai] is now accepting orders.'

The largest capacity declared for vessels currently under construction are the 10,000 teu vessels the state-owned China Ocean Shipping Container Lines contracted in January from Hyundai and in May from associate Nantong Cosco KHI Ship Engineering.

However, Denmark's Maersk Sealand, the world's biggest shipping line, is thought to have recently built 12,000 teu vessels at its secretive Odense Steel Shipyard. Maersk does not declare the capacity of its container vessels.

While the revolutionary engine design will minimise the vessels' draft - Hyundai says the 9.5 metre propellers for the Cosco orders are probably the maximum effective size - it will not come without compromise, according to brokers.

'There is no question that a twin-engine design will increase the vessels' operating cost,' said Martin Rowe, a director at brokers Simpson, Spence & Young (Hong Kong).

Hyundai, which has secured orders for 70 box ships in the 8,000 teu class since 2002, said the twin propulsion system would be 'negligibly more cost-intensive than the variant with only one main engine'.