Demand for high-cube containers to grow by 50% in 2013
Shipper demand for 40-foot high-cube containers is still growing, creating stowage problems for ocean carriers and analytical difficulties for trade forecasters using twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) measurements.
Drewry’s Container Insight weekly report showed that the proportion of 40-ft high-cube (9ft 6in high) containers in the global maritime container fleet is predicted to exceed 50 percent by the end of this year for the first time.
According to Drewry’s 2013 Container Census, the equipment’s market share reached 49% in 2012, and is expected to grow by at least another 1% this year.
Drewry noted that the number of high cube containers in the fleet grew by another 8% last year, up to 15.4 million TEUs, taking the rise in demand between 2007 and 2012 up to a remarkable 49 percent.
“This meant that the 40-ft high cube’s share of the total maritime equipment market increased from 41% up to 49% or just over 1% per annum, almost entirely at the expense of normal 40ft 8ft 6in high boxes. On the other hand, the proportion of 20ft containers remained constant at around 33%.
Drewry said the popularity of 40-ft high cube is easy to understand. Being around 13% larger than ordinary 40ft boxes, shippers can load that amount of extra cargo 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.
Although much growth in demand for 40ft high-cube containers has come from reefer shippers, with almost 92% of all refrigerated cargo being shipped in the equipment last year, it only took the sector’s volume up to 2 million TEUs, said Drewry. Dry cargo still accounted for the vast majority.
The Drewry report stressed the need to stow 9-ft 6-inch containers below deck, which results in loss of cargo space for shipping lines, is reaching a critical junction.
“Whereas nearly all the equipment has been stowed on deck so far, particularly reefers, this cannot continue much longer, bearing in mind that just over 50% of a ship’s cellular capacity is located 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-feet 6-inch boxes,” the report said.
“The problem explains why Maersk, a strong supporter of 9-feet 6-inch equipment, has recently been raising the bridge heights of its S class vessels, reportedly increasing capacity from 8,400 TEUs to 9,500 TEUs.”
The Drewry report also noted that containerised cargo growth measured in teu has increasingly been underestimated over time.
“This is because a 40ft HC container usually only counts as two teu, the same as 2 x 20ft (8ft 6in) boxes, or 1 x 40ft (8ft 6in) container, even though it is approximately 13% bigger.”
The report concluded that measuring trade growth purely in TEU terms should only be seen as an approximation.
“A more exact method is to examine cargo measured in tons or cubic meters, although cargo mix can be a problem here, and customs data measured in both units rarely separates containerised traffic from break-bulk and bulk cargo,” said Drewry.