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The ‘jumbo-isation’ of containerships is back in fashion, with MSC and CMA CGM reportedly planning to upgrade 21 14,000 teu vessels to ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs) of 17,000 teu nominal capacity.

According to Alphaliner, the conversions will take place at Chinese shipyard Qingdao Beihai Shipbuilding Heavy Industry (BSIC), which has already won firm orders to upgrade nine MSC ships, with another two subject to negotiation.

BSIC has also reportedly signed with CMA CGM to lengthen five of the French carrier’s 13,800 teu vessels, with another five subject to options.

Alphaliner’s model of the upgrades would involve the insertion of 30-metre midsections, equivalent to two 40ft bays, which would lengthen the vessels from around 365 metres to just under 400 metres.

The consultant said this would add 20% to the nominal container intake of the ships, “at a relatively low cost and with relatively short downtimes”.

Based on the design of the South Korean-built MSC ships, Alphaliner calculates that a 14,000 teu vessel would have its intake boosted to 15,496 teu by the lengthening operation, with a further 1,500 slots potentially generated from additional deck tiers.

Indeed, hatch cover specialist MacGregor, part of Cargotec, said it had received orders from MSC to “optimise the carrying capabilities of 31 vessels”.

MacGregor said the orders had been booked in the third and fourth quarters and that completion of the upgrades would be towards the end of next year.

Giuseppe Gargiulo, MSC’s head of department, new building, dry dock and conversions, said MacGregor’s cargo system innovations “greatly improve our ability to compete in the current business environment”.

According to Alphaliner data, MSC operates 26 ships of the 14,000 teu ‘standard’, of which 19 are owned or on bareboat charter and seven are long-term chartered, making it the carrier with the most vessels of this size.

In the current world fleet there are 116 14,000 teu ships in operation, with a further 29 on order and Alphaliner suggests that at least half of these could be “jumbo-isation” candidates in the next few years.

If all of the planned 21 upgrades take place, the combined capacity increase for MSC and CMA CGM would be potentially some 60,000 teu.

At the time of writing, neither carrier was able to confirm the vessel upgrades.

MSC’s 2M partner, Maersk Line, has so far preferred a different strategy for maximising the intact of its larger vessels. Last year, the Danish carrier announced that it was to upgrade eight of its E-class 15,500 teu vessels to load a further 1,300 teu. This was achieved by raising the accommodation block and wheelhouse and increasing the height of lashing bridges to take an extra tier of boxes on the 10-year-old ships.

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