Quietly ballooning in size

They’re building those things too damn big.

Over the past decade, out of the sight of most consumers, the world’s container ships have been quietly ballooning in size. A class of vessels that carried a maximum of about 5,000 shipping containers in 2000 has doubled in size every few years since, with dozens of megaships now traversing the ocean laden with upwards of 20,000 boxes.

The ocean can deal with it; canals, not so much.

The ships’ rapid growth has outstripped the capacity of marine infrastructure to follow. The Panama canal was expanded at a cost of more than $5bn (£3.6bn) more than a decade ago to meet the size of new container ships – only to be left behind as even larger vessels rolled out of Asian shipyards.

The Suez canal has been in the process of expansion to allow for larger ships and two-way traffic at its northern end. But its southern side was still one-way and narrower: vulnerable when one of the largest container ships in the world tried to pass through on a windy morning.

Sometimes economies of scale aren’t.

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