Malaccamax

Is a new word I learned today from Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian, in his story about the global container transport system.Malaccamax, from Wikipedia:

“Malaccamax is a naval architecture term for the largest ships capable of fitting through the Straits of Malacca. A Malaccamax ship is defined to be, with 18,000 TEUs, of 300,000 DWT, 470m long, 60m wide, 20m of draft. The restriction is caused by the shallow point on the Strait, where minimum depth is 25 metres.

A post malaccamax ship would need to circumnavigate Australia, use the Lombok Strait, or use the proposed yet-unbuilt Kra Canal.”

Also – must go and order “The Box” by Marc Levinson.

From Burkeman’s piece:

“Under a bullet-grey sky this week at Felixstowe, Britain’s largest container port, it is easy to grasp why nobody pays much attention to the transport system that provides us with 95% of all imported goods. Where ports once seethed with life – the shops, tradespeople, pubs and brothels dependent on regular passing crews – Felixstowe, with its strict security controls, feels virtually abandoned. The mountains of containers, painted in browns, blues, oranges and greens, make for a desolately beautiful landscape. And the giant gantry cranes, which sweep the containers up and on or off the waiting ships with balletic grace, are mesmerising to watch, except that there is almost nobody there to watch. The few drivers and crane operators present on the quay are following the instructions of a computer that has calculated the precise order in which the containers should be moved and stacked for maximum efficiency, so that a single container’s journey from ship to waiting lorry is as short as possible and no truck ever drives anywhere empty when it could be carrying something. In Rotterdam, Europe’s busiest port, the scene is even ghostlier: the vehicles moving the containers from the stacks on the ground to the waiting cranes are driverless, piloting themselves even through thick fog using infra-red technology.

The desolation is only interrupted when the sheer vastness of the process seizes the public imagination, as it did last November when the world’s largest cargo liner, the Emma Maersk, arrived at Felixstowe carrying 45,000 tonnes of Christmas gifts from China. Crowds lined the port’s security perimeter to study the vessel, which is half a mile long and was stacked 200ft high, although even then people failed to grasp the speed with which the industry operates. “We were getting calls from people two weeks later asking if she was still in port,” says Rachael Jackson, a spokeswoman for Felixstowe port, which handles more than 40% of Britain’s import-export cargo. “But if we did things at that speed we’d never make any money. She was gone in 24 hours.”

0 comments
  1. How odd – I literally just yesterday finished reading The Box. I read it primarily on BART, and when I’d look up from pages about Sea-Land, Matson, Evergreen, and Maersk while passing through the West Oakland station I’d see miles of containers with those names stacked up through the harbor.

    You’ll be happy to know that there is also a similar term, “Panamax”, which has the same meaning in the context of the Panama canal.

  2. Nick S said:

    Only a matter of time before the luxury shipping container, fitted with bed and self-contained toilet, becomes a way to avoid airline security and cross the pond.

  3. gummi said:

    >Only a matter of time before the luxury shipping container, fitted with bed and self-contained toilet, becomes a way to avoid airline security and cross the pond.

    You should watch Mamet’s “Spartan”, and the second season of “The Wire”.

  4. David said:

    I noticed Levinson’s book when it appeared last year and you’ve inspired me to order it now. Out with a friend last night, it turns out an Australian friend of his designs robotic cranes for shipyards. Sometimes the world seems spookily small.

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