Since containerization of freight began in the 1940’s, the size of container ships has increased year by year. In recent years we have seen ships of unprecedented size be introduced on the China – US trade lanes. Ship size and capacity is measured by TEUs (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units), or how many 20 foot ocean containers a vessel can carry. In 1956, an average ship carried between 60 to 500 TEUs. The newest vessels, nicknamed the Triple E Class, can carry 18,000 TEUs. What does that mean for the US import market and for the infrastructure that is supposed to handle these new monster vessels?
Since I am an amateur historian at heart, let’s take a look at this from the lens of history. Size has always mattered in the shipping industry, dating back to the beginning of the 20th Century and the golden age of the Ocean Liner. Before the advent of safe, trans-ocean flight, the Ocean Liner was the only way to cross vast distances of ocean. Despite the glitz and glamour of a lot of these ships, the majority of passengers and fares were represented by immigrant trade. These ships were designed with this vital cargo in mind. And bigger was always better.