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The Maersk McKinney-Moller,

one of the new EEE-class ships

Ever-more-mammoth container ships ply

COLOS S US
the oceans between Asia and Europe, bringing
everything we want BY ROBERT KIENER

OF THE SEAS
I
READER’S DIGEST READER’S DIGEST

T’S JUST after four in is outsize; one link of its anchor chain
the morning and I’m weighs 225 kilograms. Its two propel-
in an 18-meter pilot lers are each ten meters in diameter.
boat, the tender Aq- The Marie Maersk can hold 18,270
uila, that’s plowing containers, 2,500 more than the larg-
through half-meter est ship held just two years ago. If all
waves some 20 ki- these containers were loaded onto
lometers off the one train, it would need to be 110
southwest coast of kilometers long. The ship is so large
Holland. A light fog that only a few deep-water ports in the
shrouds the North world can accommodate it; currently
Sea and a mild rain all are located in Asia and Europe.
falls. The Aquila’s As the Aquila’s captain expertly
captain turns to me pulls alongside the Marie Maersk, I
and points to a glowing green dot on see the sea vibrating around it and
the radar screen in front of him. “She’s hear a deep rumbling as its mighty
dead ahead,” he shouts over the noise twin 43,000-horsepower diesel en- An EEE-class ship is a hulking presence in the Port of Copenhagen.
of the engine and the rain splattering gines slow the 195,000-ton behemoth
off the boat’s windshield. to seven knots. ing experience, steadies me and greets rely on Kijlstra’s expertise to guide the
In just a few minutes I will board I look up at the massive blue steel me with a smile: “Welcome aboard the massive container ship into the port of
the EEE-class Marie Maersk, one of hull and see crewmembers opening a Marie Maersk.” Rotterdam. “The pilot knows the local
the world’s largest container ships, hatch about halfway up the ship. Then waters, the port and the traffic like the
with locally based pilot Sytze Kijlstra, they unfurl a nine-meter rope ladder. “CHANGING COURSE TO zero-nine- back of his hand,” explains Nielsen.
who will help guide the giant vessel Kijlstra gingerly clambers up it and I five. Engine speed to half ahead.” “As another captain once said, we may
into the port of Rotterdam. Kijlstra follow, gripping the thick ropes tight. Nearly 60 meters above the North Sea, own the car but he owns the parking

P HOTO, P REVIOUS SPREAD: ©JOH N F RANCI S P ETERS


tells me to follow him as he steps out The ladder sways as I climb and its in the Marie Maersk’s low-lit, glassed- lot.”
of the boat’s cozy cabin, a waterproof wooden rungs slap against the ship. I in control bridge, Kijlstra relays new Kijlstra, who will be in constant
laptop computer and portable naviga- remember what a Maersk official had course coordinates and ship speed contact with port authorities, has in-
tion system tucked beneath his right told me about boarding this ship: “Be to Captain Ole Bech Nielsen, 57, who stalled his own portable GPS naviga-
arm. careful. It will be dark. It can be dan- stands nearby at the high-tech control tion system on the ship to use during
As we stand on the deck of the gerous. And it can be a bit scary.” console. the time he is on board. “It’s accurate
Aquila, the Marie Maersk emerges She was right. Climbing up a rope PHOTO: COURTES Y MA ERSK The soft-spoken Dane, who recently down to one centimeter,” he says.
from the fog. I’m stunned. Nothing ladder onto a moving ship in the dead completed his 40th year with Maersk Such pinpoint accuracy is para-
has prepared me for the sheer bulk of night, kilometers out at sea, is not Line, orders the helmsman to steer mount. In some places there may be
of the massive $185 million, year-old for the fainthearted. Finally near the the new course and changes the en- only a few meters’ clearance between
container ship. It’s bigger than an air- pilot door, strong arms grab me and gine telegraph setting to “half ahead”. the hull and the seabed. A mistake
craft carrier. It is as high as a 20-story pull me safely into the ship. Jacob Skou stands by to assist Nielsen. here, such as a ship being grounded,
building and the length of four foot- Meyer Skou, the ship’s chief officer, Although Nielsen still controls the could cost the shipping lines millions
ball fields. Everything about the ship an affable Dane with 20 years of sail- ship, for the next several hours he will of euros in lost time and revenues.

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“Time is money,” says Nielsen, who still under construction—is costing needle of scores of other Twin 10-meter
explains that the Marie Maersk, one of the company over $3.8 billion. The ships, barges and water- propellers are fitted
onto a ship in Korea.
Maersk’s 15 new EEE-class ships that family-owned conglomerate, which is craft on the Maas River
currently ply the route from Asia to the world’s largest container shipping and entered Rotterdam’s
Europe, has to keep to a tight sched- company, is betting that an expanding busy Europahaven con-
ule. As we look out from the bridge at global economy will keep these mega- tainer port. Now Kijlstra
the rows of containers stacked aboard, ships filled to capacity on the lucrative and Nielsen are negotiat-
he explains, “We are scheduled to be Asia-Europe route. By designing more ing a dramatic 180-degree
docked by nine this morning, when efficient engines and employing slow turn to starboard, with the
unloading will begin. We simply can’t steaming, sailing at 16 knots an hour help of the tugs and the
be late.” instead of 22, the company saves over ship’s bow thrusters, pow-
A delivery delay can be disastrous a million dollars in reduced fuel costs erful propellers that help
for stores in lost sales revenues, and on a typical journey between Asia move the ship sideways.
for manufacturers who may have to and Europe. Last year Maersk made a The thrusters help ease
delay their production schedules. profit of over two billion dollars. the 400-meter ship into its
“And we have perishable food in re- But there are many challenges 450-meter “parking space”
frigerated containers (‘reefers’) that ahead, including falling freight rates at the dock, and the port’s
have to be unloaded and shipped to in response to stalling or shrinking crew fix the ship’s moor-
supermarkets.” economies in Europe and China and ing lines to bollards on
After leaving Korea 32 days ago and overcapacity in the container ship- shore. Once the final line
stopping in seven ports, including ping industry. China Shipping recently is winched tight, Nielsen
China, the Marie Maersk is scheduled launched a new ship, the CSCL Globe, and Kijlstra signal the
to unload 1,525 containers in Rotter- two meters longer than EEE-class port that the ship is safely
dam. Since this is an “import” call, ships and capable of carrying 19,100 alongside and unload-
just 28 containers will be taken on containers. “We’re not using the full ing can begin. It is exactly
board at this stop. capacity of our EEE’s yet,” says Mi- 9:01. to remove each container’s four cor-

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randa van der Meijden, Maersk Line’s “A minute late,” says Nielsen with a ner “twist locks,” devices that fasten
ODAY’S EEE BEHEMOTHS Director of Trade and Marketing for wide smile. “We can always make that each container to the one above and
are a far cry from the ships of the Netherlands Cluster. up on the next trip.” below it.
just a few decades ago. “The As the first bright lights of the Port of Five massive 120-meter-tall ship-to-

PHOTO: ©JOHN F RANCIS PETERS


first Maersk ship I joined in Rotterdam, still a few kilometers away, A FINELY choreographed unload- shore cranes are slowly wheeled into
1975 could carry 10,000 tons,” says glimmer through the fog, the pilot says ing process begins. A virtual army of position along the ship’s starboard
Nielsen. “It was considered a ‘big ship’ to Nielsen, “Change course to zero- stevedores and port workers swarms side. Their 70-meter-long lifting arms
then. Today we are carrying 20 times nine-seven.” The captain orders the over the ship’s containers and along are lowered into place across the en-
as much in just one ship! Back then it helmsman to steer zero-nine-seven. the quayside. Some clamber onto the tire 55-meter width of the ship. These
could take a week to unload and load By just past 8 a.m., Kijlstra, with the Marie Maersk and begin removing cranes are capable of lifting 100 tons.
a ship. Now we do it in less than 24 assistance of two powerful tug boats lashing bars that help lock the con- An operator on each crane uses
hours.” that have been nudging and hauling tainers in place and keep them from high-tech joysticks to lower an 11-
Maersk’s 20-ship EEE fleet—five are the Marie Maersk, has threaded the shifting in rough seas. Others prepare ton rectangular “hook” or “spreader”

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on cables into the ship’s bay or stacks “Fresh food such as bananas and fresh flown home by Maersk for several been loaded onto the Marie Maersk
of containers. Time after time, with meat has to be placed on a waiting months, then back for their next “ro- and the gantry cranes’ long loading
a loud “thud,” the hook latches onto truck for immediate delivery to gro- tation.” By contrast, the captain and arms have been raised away from the
the four corners of a 13,600-kilo con- cery customers,” explains APM Termi- senior officers do 11-13 weeks aboard ship. Stevedores are tightening the
tainer and swings it high into the air nals’ Operations Support Manager Jos and the same time at home. last of the criss-crossed lashing bars
and back to the quayside, where it is van Peperstraten. “Other containers “I miss my wife and my baby daugh- to stabilize the containers on the ship.
lowered some 40 meters to the flotilla may go to a barge to be transported ter Maya,” admits Martinez. “But I talk Others have double-checked that the
of specialized port vehicles that will via rivers into Europe, onto a train or to them on Skype and keep in touch reefers are running properly.
receive the containers. It takes an av- stored here at the port for later trans- with email.” Facilities to keep the crew With a new pilot aboard, the cap-
erage of just two minutes to take off shipment.” entertained include a well-stocked ex- tain radios his crew to remove the
each container. ercise room, a cinema room, a library, slip lines. It is now 11:30 p.m. “We’re
A team of port controllers oversee WHILE UNLOADING CONTINUES, an Internet room, two day rooms, a a little bit ahead of schedule,” says
the entire process, via a bank of video some of the crew grab a quick dinner video room with movie-theatre-style Nielsen as he takes up his position
monitors and two-way radios, from in the ship’s mess hall. I meet Robert seating and even a barbecue area on on the bridge. Thanks to the efficient
a nearby four-story high, glassed-in Aldrin Martinez, 43, one of the ship’s an outer deck. Each Saturday the en- crane operators, stevedores and the
control room. several able bodied (ordinary) sea- tire crew, except for one on-duty of- ship’s crew, the Marie Maersk meets
The unloading process follows a men. He’s on a four-hour break await- ficer, sits down together for a lavish yet another deadline and sets off
strict game plan that details exactly ing the start of his next shift. dinner—usually steak and potatoes, for Germany. Nielsen explains that
which containers are to be removed Martinez, who is from the Philip- followed by ice cream. But alcohol is Maersk’s EEEs lead the industry in
and where they are to be placed. pines, has been a seaman for 17 years always forbidden on board. on-time reliability scores, meeting ar-

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and quickly admits that the Marie rival and departure deadlines over 99
MAERSK EEE
340 meters
Maersk is the “most comfortable” ship HE FINAL CONTAINER is un- percent of the time.
he has ever worked on. “It’s huge and loaded by dusk and loading Nielsen turns the thrusters on and
takes some time to know your way begins just after 7 p.m. So the Marie Maersk begins to inch away
EIFFEL TOWER
324 meters around it,” he says, “but there’s lots to far, so good. However, load- from the quayside. Next stop, Bremer-
do here.” Adds, Menandro Lopez, 46, ing a container ship is more complex haven, Germany, then on to Poland,
TITANIC
269 meters another crewmember from the Philip- than unloading. Stevedores have to Denmark and Sweden. Then it’s back
pines, “It’s great but we’re also away follow a detailed load list, devised by to Bremerhaven and Rotterdam to
from our families a long time.” a Maersk stowage planner. Containers take on containers before the Marie
Each of the 21 crew members has have to be stowed on board in just the Maersk begins another 37-day,
his (they are all male) own cabin with right order so they can be unloaded at 18,500-kilometer voyage to Korea,
private bathroom. Nielsen’s quarters a future port without having to move halfway around the world.
consist of a roomy 28-square-meter other containers. Stowage planners
bedroom and an adjoining day room. also have to take weight into account.
Martinez and Lopez, like the ship’s Some loaded containers may weigh
other able bodied seamen, who are more than 30 tons. Cargo ships have
the lowest-ranking crew members, split apart and sunk due to uneven
are on board for six months at a time, weight distribution or shifting cargo.
(working two four-hour shifts a day), By 9 p.m. the last container has

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