The World’s Largest Container Ships

The Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers, currently under construction to serve as the new flagships of the Royal Navy, will be gigantic ships: 280 meters in length, with acres of flight deck. As floating cities, their size is impressive–but not quite as impressive as that of the world’s largest container ships, which can outsize even aircraft carriers by some measures. Recent years have seen several massive container ships enter the global stage and jockey for position as the biggest.

Runner Up: The CSCL Globe

At one point, the CSCL Globe was the largest container ship in the world. When it docked in Suffolk in early January 2015, the Globe boasted a capacity of 19,000 standard containers, according to the BBC. (Each standard container measures 20 feet in length.) The ship has a length of 400 meters and a beam–or measure of its width at its widest point–of 59 meters.

The Globe operates for China Shipping Container Lines. Per the BBC article on its visit to Suffolk, its “19,000 containers would stretch 72 miles if laid end-to-end” and the ship could transport “900 million tins of beans or 300 million tablet computers.” That means it could deliver five tablet computers to every person in England.

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MSC Oscar [Image courtesy of Mediterranean Shipping Company]
Champions: The MSC Oscar and Siblings

While impressive, the CSCL Globe did not hold the world record for long. According to the website of The Maritime Executive, “The MSC Oscar, named after MSC CEO Diego Aponte’s son, beat out the CSCL Globe for the title of world’s largest container vessel.“

The Oscar can hold nearly 20,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units, or standard containers). The ship is so large that it can’t fit into current U.S. ports, instead relying on other countries whose ports have the room and infrastructure to support such a massive cargo influx.

According to the BBC, the Oscar is 396 meters in length, which means the Globe has a slight advantage in that area. However, the Oscar can carry 124 more containers–the measure that counts when determining size records.

As if its massive capacity alone weren’t enough, the Oscar has four similarly gigantic siblings: the Oliver, Zoe, Maya, and Sveva. Their ability to transport incredible amounts of cargo in one journey makes them very efficient.

The Future

Here at BSL, as manufacturers of shipping containers that are transported world wide, we have seen just how big container ships can get. It’s an impressive site to see one of them looming above a dock.

And big ships might become even more impressive. The only constraint on container ships’ size may end up being infrastructure’s ability to handle them, as shown by how ultra-sized container ships need to be picky about where they dock. But provided infrastructure keeps up, ships may be able to keep growing.

Chris Gosling, the founder of Shipping TV, told The Independent that he anticipates container ships reaching 450 meters in length in the next five years. And that may be child’s play compared to one research concept described by The Maritime Executive: a 35,000 TEU “mega ship” created by coupling together a pair of container ships. So while the present state of container ships is incredible, the future could be even more mind-boggling.