Skip to main content
economy lab

China's decision to commit to an economic future led by manufacturing is good news for container shipping giants.

Encouraged by signs Asia isn't slowing down, Maersk Line, the world's largest mover of ship-borne exports, has just penned a contract with Korean DME shipyard to build 10 of the world's largest container vessels.

At first glance, the $1.9-billion (U.S.) "gamble" is nothing more than cost-saving disguised as boldness: The Triple-E types are touted as being 50-per-cent lighter on fuel and carbon-dioxide emissions while carrying up to 18,000 containers per run - about 15 per cent more than the largest container vessels currently in use.

There's another reason why bigger is better: the world's largest country and its shipyard-dependent neighbours have cornered the market on shipbuilding steel.

But, with an option to buy another 20, the Danes see something else in Asia. While the world weighs the advice of finance men, the Chinese fund lords have decided they'll build manufacturing capacity at home secured by raw materials purchased abroad. With one million students at Wuhan University alone, how could Beijing not see a future full of competitive products for export?

The die is cast, and Maersk is determined to have the edge on the Europe to Asia routes. And, don't expect to see one of the 400-metre behemoth Triple-Es call at a U.S. port any time soon - they're too big. Only a handful of global ports can handle a vessel of this size.

At home, Europe is upping the bar for shipping by insisting on "short-shipping", a building program, infrastructure and rules in support of cleaner (gas-powered, if possible) vessels serving the Continent alone. The big bunker burners are being banished to the open sea.

With the China to Europe trade route expected to grow steadily, the only question may be will there be enough ships?