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Post-NPX ships to fill the void between 16,000 and 24,000 Teu?

Source & Photo: Alphaliner

With the most recent maxi-neo-panamax designs now optimized to nominal intakes of around 16,500 teu, and megamax capacities approaching 24,500 teu, a gap of some 8,000 teu has opened up in the global portfolio of mainline container ship types. Alphaliner therefore believes that ocean carriers will increasingly look at ships of a ‘new’ in-between size class, when it comes to newbuilding orders. With optimized hull shapes and engines of the latest generation, ships of this post-neo-panamax (PNPX) class could potentially rival the slot costs of 400 m long first-generation megamax vessels (MGX-23) which typically carry between 18,000 and 19,000 teu. At the same time, ships of this size category will likely outperform modern neopanamax (NPX) designs, while being more flexible in terms of trades they can serve, than the latest 24,000 teu giants. In the current liner fleet, there are only 42 ships that fall into the category of vessels too big to transit the Panama Canal, but smaller than the MGX-23. These belong to two main sub-categories: Firstly, there are ships with a length of about 400 m which are one, two, or even three rows narrower than the smallest megamax, the MGX-23. This includesvessels built with these dimensions (21 and 22 rows wide) as well as 20-row wide ships that were lengthened to about 400 m to increase capacity.

Originally built as NPX ships of 14,000 teu, this ‘jumboization’ turned the vessels into PNPX units of around 17,300 teu. Secondly, and somewhat more relevant for future vessel types, there are ‘compact’ PNPX ships designed to carry loads roughly comparable to those of a neo-panamax ship, but with advantages in stability from their wider beam

Source & Photo: Alphaliner

As per 21 August, there are 602 neo-panamax and 172 megamax vessels in the global container fleet, with only 42 units in-between these two size clusters. Only eleven of these ships, namely Maersk’s compact ‘H-class’ sisters from Hyundai Heavy Industries, fit the mold of a ‘compact’ PNPX vessel that is optimized for medium-capacity routes that do not require them to transit through the Panama Canal. The other 31 are all too long (and partly also too wide) for the canal and, at least by today’s standards, they have somewhat undesirable length versus breadth characteristics. Today’s 8,000 teu capacity gap between the largest NPX and the standard MGX will have to be addressed in the future and some carriers have moved accordingly and ordered new ‘compact’ PNPX ships. Maersk made a first move with the aforementioned ‘H-class’ (2017- 2019) and the carrier has ordered 18 methanol-powered ‘Equinox’ class units for delivery from 2024 to 2026. These compact 350 m vessels will come in two sub-types: Hyundai will build a 21-row wide 16,200 teu variant and a 22-row wide 17,000 teu variant. The ‘Equinox’ will also feature an unusual general layout with an allforward deckhouse and an asymmetrical funnel placed all aft on the port side. The larger of the two designs will carry loads that come close to the nominal intakes of Maersk’s first-generation ‘EEE’, which have a 20% larger footprint. Another carrier that is believed to have opted for modern PNPX ships is Evergreen, whose latest series of orders for 24 large mainline ships will likely have a post-neo-panamax footprint.

While not officially confirmed yet, several sources have independently told Alphaliner that Evergreen’s methanol-powered next-generation ships will be PNPX units with a length of about 366 m and a breadth of 21 rows. On this basis, it is safe to say that the vessels will be notably larger than the 16,000 teu that Evergreen disclosed. Given the aforementioned dimensions are correct, such a ship could load around 17,400 teu in nominal terms. Since every single top-ten carrier already operates NPX ships that can transit the Panama Canal, there is no major downside to the introduction of a new vessel class that cannot. Alphaliner believes that the benefits of further optimizing the asset, i.e. the vessel, will outweigh the slight disadvantage that parts of a carrier’s fleet are then less flexible in terms of deployment. Especially for the seven global shipping lines in the +1 Mteu fleet size, this should be a non-issue. Rising bunker prices, especially for ‘new’ and ‘green’ fuels such as LNG or methanol, will also incentivize larger, highly optimized tonnage with lower per-slot energy consumption. TITLE STORY ‘Type 1’ - 20 rows wide - ca. 400 m long - ca 17,000 teu (conversions) Today’s post-neo-panamax container ship classes Below, Alphaliner reviews the four main types of container ships that fall in-between the maxi-neo-panamax and the megamax sizes.

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