Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Post-Panamax Cruise

As part of her dissertation project Charmaine Chua is paying a sizable sum to be a passenger on a container ship voyage for 36 days, traveling from Los Angeles to Taipei with numerous ports-of-call in between:
There is uncanny beauty in the monstrous. This, at least, is the feeling that seizes me as I stand under the colossal Ever Cthulu[1] berthed in the Port of Los Angeles. The ship’s hull alone rises eight stories into the air; even from a distance, I am unable to capture its full length or height within a single camera frame. In describing the ship to my friends and my family, I have sought to make adequate comparisons between its size and more familiar objects: The Ever Cthulu is 333 meters (1,100 ft) long, 43 meters (141 ft) across, and 70 meters (230 ft) high. It is taller than an eighteen-story building, the Arc De Triomphe, or Niagara Falls. It as long as a line of seventy cars, the Eiffel Tower tipped on its side, two Roman Colosseums, four New York City blocks, or six and half White Houses. I’ve had a lot of practice picturing this ship. Even so, when I am finally at the foot of its immense mass, I can scarcely believe that this monstrosity will be my home for the next 36 days....
With a carrying capacity of 8,100 TEUs (or twenty-foot equivalent units – the length of a standard container – although today 40-footers are the norm) that can shoulder a total weight of 101,000 tons, the Ever Cthulu would require a 40-mile line of trucks to transport all its cargo. When it was built in 2006, it was the largest ship in the world. Less than a year later, Maersk introduced a new ship class with a capacity almost double that volume, and today, owns the world’s largest ships at carrying capacities of 18,000 TEUs each. Post-Panamax carriers such as the Ever Cthulu – ships that exceed the maximum dimension that can fit in the Panama canal – comprise 16% of the world’s fleet, but carry more than 45% of seaborne goods...
The captain tells me that the Ever Cthulu, like all other ships, never stops for a break. It continues traversing the globe’s surface in 45-day rotations, reaching one end of its route and turning around almost immediately. Container ships are monuments that move, and 100, 000 of them ply the oceans at any given moment. In 2014, the Ever Cthulu traveled a total of 103,000 sea miles — halfway to the moon. All that distance, all that steel, all that power. Yet, even ships as large as these require very little human labor: a few seamen to navigate, engineers to monitor the ship’s internal workings, others to keep watch, clean, fit, change the oil. The Ever Cthulu itself has a crew of 22 men – four German, one Polish, seventeen Filipino, and one passenger: myself. Across the world’s ocean, 1.5 million invisible seafarers toil on three to nine month contracts to bind the world together through trade, though they remain, for the most part, isolated in their cabins and mess rooms, retained on precarious short-term contracts, and kept away from their families – indeed, from most of the world.
The numbers are unfathomable to me.  Overall, it is a well-written and informative post.  Hopefully, I'll remember to check back for later installments.

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