Drewry, the London-based shipping consultant, says demand by shippers for 40-foot, high-cube containers is increasing, creating stowage problems for ocean carriers.
In the latest issue of its Container Insight Weekly
, Drewry said the proportion of 40-foot, high-cube containers (which are 9 feet, 6 inches high and can hold 13 percent more cargo than standard 40-foot containers that are only 8 feet, six inches high) is predicted to exceed 50 percent by the end of 2013 for the first time.
According to Drewry, the portion of containers that are 40-foot high-cubes has risen from 41 percent in 2007 to 49 percent, and this percentage is expected to grow by at least one percent this year.
Shippers can load more cargo in high-cube boxes at "little to no extra freight cost. Moreover, inland transport is usually charged on a per-container basis for light cargo, so there are no extra haulage costs too," Drewry said.
It also noted that 92 percent of all refrigerated containers are high-cube. About 2 million of the 15.4 million high-cube containers are reefers.
Drewry said while to date, nearly all high-cube boxes are carried on deck, stowing high-cube boxes underdeck will result in a loss of cargo space. The industry is now "reaching a critical junction" because just over half of containership capacity is on deck.
"When under-deck stowage is required, as much as 7 feet can be lost between the top of the last tier of a stack and the main deck, as ship holds are usually designed for 8-foot-6-inch boxes. Line of sight (from the navigating bridge) rules will also prevent more containers from being loaded on deck."
Drewry said, "The problem explains why Maersk, a strong supporter of 9-foot-6-inch equipment, has recently been raising the bridge heights of its S-class vessels, reportedly increasing capacity from 8,400 TEU to 9,500 TEU."
Drewry also predicts that as the share of high-cube containers grow, there could be a need "for more high-cube friendly vessels. This could
include the construction of wider — and hence slower — ships with
greater deck capacity."
Drewry said since statisticians, for example those compiling trade statistics, generally count the move of both standard and high-cube, 40-foot containers as "two TEU," trade figures could be underestimating trade flows.
"So in a major tradelane like the eastbound transpacific, where 40-foot equipment is the norm due to light average cargo weights, although year-on-year growth in the first seven months of 2013 was only 1.856 percent measured in TEU, it was over 2.2 percent measured in 'constant' TEU. The difference may not seem much, but it makes a big difference to economists trying to make sense of the changes between GDP growth and cargo growth. It is also cumulative, so gets bigger over longer periods of time."