These are the world’s biggest ‘mega’ ships

Following the inauguration of the world’s largest container ship – the MSC Oscar – in January 2015, ship safety has come under the spotlight.

At 19,224 teu, the MSC Oscar stretches 395.4m (1,297ft) long, the length of four football pitches, and can carry 19,000 containers.

Container ship capacity is measured in 20-foot equivalent units (teu). Typical loads are a mix of 20-foot and 40-foot containers. The MSC Oscar has the capacity to hold 39,000 cars.

The mega vessel measures 73m (240ft) high and is 59m (194ft) wide, and according to the BBC, its engine generates 16 megawatts of power, the equivalent of 8,000 household kettles or 800,000 electric razors.

The MSC Oscar stole the title of the world’s biggest container ship from China Shipping Container Lines’ CSCL Globe, which was officially launched in November 2014. At the time, the Globe superseded Mærsk’s Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller ship.

While these ships are already a staggering size (higher than the Empire State Building in the US) – some ships as large as 22,000 teu are expected to be in service soon, according to Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty SE’s (AGCS) third annual Safety and Shipping Review 2015.

Teu big?

This poses a safety concern, particularly when it comes to a salvage challenge. The time it could take to remove all of the containers from an 19,000+ teu vessel in the event of an incident, assuming it was possible at all, is two years, the report said.

“Larger ships can also mean larger losses. The industry should prepare for a loss exceeding $1 billion in future featuring a container vessel or even a specialized floating offshore facility,” said Sven Gerhard, Global Product Leader Hull & Marine Liabilities, AGCS.

Maximum exposure would not necessarily be limited to vessel and cargo value but could also include environmental or business interruption backlash, the report warns.

Container-carrying capacity has increased by approximately 1,200% since 1968.

MSC Oscar (ship, 2014) by kees torn - MSC OSCAR & SVITZER NARI
MSC Oscar- the world’s largest container ship
CSCL Globe
CSCL Globe – the world’s second largest container ship
Mærsk McKinney Møller
Mærsk McKinney Møller – the second runner up for title of world’s largest container ship

Largest vessels lost in 2014

Vessel Date of loss Cause of loss Size
Posh Mogami 18 July 2014 Sank during failed submerging trials 18,060 GT
Enarxis 29 May 2014 Sustained water ingress in engine room 18,003 GT
Beagle III 17 March 2014 In collision with Pegasus Prime 12,630 GT
Ina 21 November 2014 Sustained blackout due to switchboard damage 10,931 GT
Ana 23 July 2014 Drifted from anchoring position and ran aground in heavy seas caused by typhoon 10,208 GT
Amadeo I 18 August 2014 Ran aground and capsized 9,737 GT
Caravel Pride 16 July 2014 Grounded after engine problems 7,258 GT
Tao Yuan 25 August 2014 Sank following collision with Gang Tai Tai Zhou 7,065 GT
Saloos 19 May 2014 Sank 6,950 GT
Sewol 16 April 2014 Capsized and sank 6,825 GT

Passenger vessels lost in 2014

Vessel Date of loss Cause of loss Size
Sewol 16 April 2014 Capsized and sank 6,825 GT
BJL I 14 January 2014 Sank after flooding caused the vessel to list 2,555 GT
Maharlika II 13 September 2014 Sank in rough waves caused by typhoon 1,865 GT
KM Sahabat 21 January 2014 Sank 1,805 GT
Super Shuttle Ferry 7 14 September 2014 Half-submerged on port side in bad weather 730 GT
Munawar Ferry 3 January 2014 Sank 522 GT
Q Carrelyn 29 November 2014 Capsized 248 GT

Never the unsinkable

According to AGCS, shipping losses continued their long-term downward trend with 75 reported worldwide in 2014, making it the safest year in shipping for 10 years.

The most common cause of total losses is foundering (sinking/submerging), accounting for 65% of losses in 2014 (49). With 13 ships wrecked or stranded, grounding was the second most common cause with fires/explosions (4) third, but significantly down year-on-year.

According to the report, there were 2,773 shipping incidents (casualties) globally (including total losses) during 2014.

AGCS sees a number of risks for such mega-ships including the fact operation is limited to a small number of deep water ports, meaning an increased concentration of risk.

There is also a world-wide shortage of qualified seaman. Salvage and removal is also challenging. As the wreck removal of the Costa Concordia passenger ship demonstrated such costs can easily be a multiple of the hull value.

“The shipping industry should think long and hard before making the leap to the next ship size,” said Captain Rahul Khanna, Global Head of Marine Risk Consulting, AGCS.

Korean Ferry Sewol Capsized 2014
Korean Ferry Sewol Capsized in 2014
Amadeo I capsized
Amadeo I capsized in 2014


The number of pirate attacks on commercial shipping continued to decline overall around the globe in 2014, dropping 7% year-on-year to 245 (compared with 264 in 2013), according to the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

At the start of March 2015 the number of reported piracy incidents to the IMB during the year-to-date totaled 29.

Causes of Total Losses 2005-2014

Loss ’05 ’06 ’07 ’08 ’09 ’10 ’11 ’12 ’13 ’14 Grand Total
Collision 26 23 17 12 13 10 3 5 2 2 113
Contact 5 2 2 1 1 2 13
Foundered 56 64 69 73 61 64 43 55 69 49 603
Fire/explosion 16 19 17 16 14 11 8 13 15 4 133
Hull damage 8 4 11 4 7 4 3 5 1 3 50
Missing/overdue 3 1 1 1 6
Machine failure 8 11 14 8 6 4 6 15 2 3 77
Piracy 1 1 1 8 5
Wrecked/stranded 23 29 35 34 23 22 28 25 20 13 252
Miscellaneous 3 1 3 1 2 6 1 1 1 19
Grand Total 149 154 170 149 128 124 91 121 110 75 1271

Cyber risks

According to the report, cyber risks represent another new threat for a shipping sector which is highly interconnected and increasingly reliant on automation.

Considering more than 90% of global trade is estimated to be carried by sea, much is at stake and at risk, with an increasing number of potential loss scenarios, the report warns.

“Cyber risk may be in its infancy in the sector today, but ships and ports could become enticing targets for hackers in future. Companies must simulate potential scenarios and identify appropriate mitigation strategies,” said Khanna.

“A cyber-attack targeting technology on board, in particular electronic navigation systems, could possibly lead to a total loss or even involve several vessels from one company,” said Gerhard.

Other scenarios include cyber criminals targeting a major port, closing terminals, or interfering with containers or confidential data. Such attacks could also result in significant business interruption costs, notwithstanding liability or reputational losses.

Losses by Type of Vessel
Losses by Type of Vessel

Drone ships

The report noted that the idea of unmanned ships has been discussed, however progress on making the concept a reality has been slow.

But manufacturer, Rolls Royce Holdings, is keen to inject life into that process with the launch of its vision of so-called drone ships. It believes that the industry could see unmanned cargo ships brought into service before the end of the decade.

Gerhard believes unmanned ships could offer an alternative for short sea shipping, while Kinsey suggests a convoy formation with manned vessels escorting and tracking to “hold the leash” of the unmanned ships.

However, AGCS experts believe it could be decades rather than years before the industry is ready for commercial use of drone ships. The susceptibility of unmanned ships to cyber attacks is another risk that needs to be considered.

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These are the world’s biggest ‘mega’ ships