Shipping – advantages, disadvantages and opportunities

Should container ships become larger and larger and what is most important for shippers? These are two questions raised by researchers at a seminar arranged by Lighthouse, the Swedish Transport Administration and the School of Business, Economics and Law at Gothenburg University.

Jean-Paul Rodrigue from Hofstra University in New York discussed if container ships actually should become larger and larger and which party gains from larger containerships? The issue of larger and larger container ships is not necessarily for the benefit for the society according to Jean-Paul Rodrigue.

- Shipping companies might want as large ships as possible, but this creates great demands on ports and other services surrounding the ship. There might be the way that scale is not always an advantage. In the future we might see a decline in the ship sizes, Jean-Paul Rodrigue said.

There is little knowledge about the optimal ship size. The disadvantages of scale are for instance port limitation, larger volumes and as a result lower frequency and supply chain constraints. Constraints on the supply chain can lead to reliability issues as well as cargo and insurance risks. Jean-Paul Rodrigue suggests that increased digitisation can be a possible solution to many of the problems facing the maritime sector.

- The reliability of cargo ships 2010 was 45 %. Impacts of larger containership on ports hinterland traffic is therefore great and can lead to local residence problems, Jean-Paul Rodrigue said.

The seminar then continued with Christian Finnsgård, Project Manager at SSPA, who presented a study about slow-steaming logistics and shippers’ ability to manage slow-steaming logistics.

- Increased reliability with longer sailing times is not always the case. However, reliability is according to the study one of the most important factors for transport buyers – even if it increases costs. Only one of the interviewed companies mentioned environmental impact as important when buying transport, Christian Finnsgård said.

Johan Woxenius discussed the importance of freight terminals and other logistics facilities. Freight terminals are important since a large share of a companies’ costs are warehousing, goods handling and inventories. Terminals determine the freight movements to a large extent. The study shows how concentration and decentralisation are happening at the same time in the Gothenburg region. The trend is likely to continue in the long-term due to for instance government funded transport infrastructure investments, redevelopment in the City of Gothenburg and the continued population, industry and economic concentration towards large urban areas, Johan Woxenius said.