When it was put into service in August 2006, Emma Maersk was the largest container ship to grace the seas. She can carry 14,770 TEU by the standard measure of capacity and has more than 100,000 horsepower. Today, we’ll take a closer look at Emma Maersk, its sister ships, and a few of the other vessels who have surpassed her in carrying capacity since she was built.
Emma Maersk at port. Image from Container Logic.
Before its construction, Maersk Line was building S-Type vessels that were about 6,000 TEU, the first of which was the Regina Maersk. They scaled them up slowly, increasing width and length, but they were mainly the same as many other container ships built before. The new Emma Maersk was a completely different design with the engine room and bridge at midship. According to Container Logic, IMO Line of Sight rules regulated how many containers could be loaded forward, and this new design allowed more room for containers, as well as better visibility with increased height of the bridge. The ship was also wider, allowing for 22 containers to be loaded in rows along the vessel, so many in fact, that at the time of construction, there wasn't a port that could unload all the containers without turning the ship around. Maersk sent a clear message that these new ships needed to be accommodated and the terminals had to redesign with new quay cranes for this class of larger vessel.
Emma Maersk was officially rated at 11,000 TEU when it sailed its maiden voyage in 2006, but using the standard measure of capacity, its rating is 14,770 TEU. At the time, 11,000 TEU was 1,400 TEU larger than the next comparable vessel, according to Ship Technology. The difference in these two measurements is due to the way weights are calculated for containers. Maersk’s older method of calculating maximum capacity was based on fully loaded 14 ton containers, giving a maximum ship capacity of 11,000, but many containers are not fully loaded during shipping. It also has space for 1,000 reefers, or refrigerated containers that keep cargo below 30 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. Emma Maersk is the first E-class containership and has seven sister ships, whose names all begin with the letter “E”. The eight ships were the longest and highest capacity container vessels in the world, with Ebba Maersk setting a record in Tanger-Med, Tangier of 15,011 TEU in May 2010, according to Wikipedia.
Broadside view of Emma Maersk. Image from Wikipedia.
While under construction, Emma Maersk suffered a fire caused by welding. The fire affected the accommodation section and bridge, adding 6-7 weeks to her build time. The ship weighs in at 170,974t with a length of 397m, 56m beam, and 15.5m draught. She sails with a crew of 13, but there is room for 30. Power comes from the world’s largest single diesel unit, a Wärtsilä-Sulzer 14RTFLEX96-C making up to 81MW or 109,000 hp. It weighs 2300 tons and powers multiple other generators, employing cogeneration and exhaust heat recovery. Exhaust gases are recirculated into the engine for improved efficiency and heat is used to power steam turbines and heat the ship. The main propeller shaft is the longest in the world at 150 meters long, allowing the engine compartment to be mounted in the middle of the vessel, according to Container Logic. She has two bow and two stern thrusters for maneuvering in port, and two pairs of stabilizer fins to reduce roll on the sea. Many vessels use a biocide to keep barnacles off the hull, but the Emma Maersk uses a silicone-based paint that won’t leak biocides into the ocean and reduces drag, saving about 1200 tons of fuel each year, according to Wikipedia.
She was named Emma after Arnold Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller’s late wife, in a naming ceremony on August 12, 2006. The vessel was featured on Mighty Ships, a documentary series on Discovery Channel Canada. The National Bank of Denmark even created a 20 DKK commemorative coin for her in 2011, issuing 800,000 pieces, according to Danmarks National Bank.
Emma Maersk 20 Kroner coin. Image from Container Logic.
Other large containerships
Less than a year after Ebba Maersk set the record of 15,011 TEU, Maersk placed an order for ten new Triple E class containerships from Daewoo. The new vessels would have a standard capacity of 18,000 TEU and Maersk ordered ten additional vessels just four months later. The first Triple E vessel was delivered in 2013, the Maersk Mc-Kinney Møller. The Triple E class is 3 meters longer and 4 meters wider than the E class Emma Maersk, but can carry 2500 additional containers, with the second generation able to carry 20,568 TEU. The emphasis for the new vessels was lowering fuel consumption and emissions, so they were built with two smaller engines with less total power than the previous class, and a slower cruising speed. The Triple E class also held the title of the largest container ships in the world until surpassed by other vessels like the CSCL Globe with a capacity of 19,100 TEU. The vessel is owned by COSCO Shipping, who merged with China Shipping Container Lines (CSCL), according to Wikipedia.
Container ship companies continue the leapfrog of largest vessel title - the current champion is HMM Algeciras with a 24,000 TEU capacity, more than 9,000 TEU more than Emma Maersk. According to Marine Insight, as of September 2021, the list of 10 largest container ships doesn’t even include the CSCL Globe, which gets an honorable mention. The Madrid Maersk comes in 9th place at 20,568 TEU.
HMM Algeciras at port. Image from gCaptain.
Companies continue to push to build the largest container vessels possible. New designs focus on carrying more cargo while being environmentally friendly, reducing fuel consumption, and lowering emissions. HMM Algeciras is equipped with scrubbers and very efficient engines to meet stricter International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations. Container ships will continue to grow in size as more goods are transported around the world and we will continue to see record-breaking vessels. From 2006 to 2021, we’ve already seen ships grow from a record setting 14,770 TEU to a massive 24,000 TEU. We look forward to seeing the new innovations that lead to more efficient ships, particularly their dynamic positioning systems that allow them to maneuver in port.