The Economist had interesting piece on the economics of very big ships. If you wanted a good example of economies of scale look no further than sending a T shirt from China to Europe – 2.5cents is the cost. What allows it to be so cheap is the enormous scale of the new container ships that are now being produced – mainly in South Korea.
Maersk container ships transport a considerable percent of the world’s ocean freight and they have a fleet of over 500 container ships that sail every major trade lane. The big ships are 400m long and the ship can carry 7,500 40ft containers each of which can hold 70,000 T shirts – that makes a total of 525,000,000 T Shirts per container ship. Furthermore it only takes 3 weeks for the T shirts to arrive in Europe and the combination of the largest combustion engine ever built and a minimum crew of 13 personel to run the ship leads to signifiacnt economies of scale (see graph below – Point A being the lowest point on the long-run average cost curve LAC).
Given the rising price of fuel many companies feel they need bigger ships to improve efficiency and ultimately improve their margins. Maersk are looking to increase the size of container ship so that it can hold 18,000 x 20ft units. Freight rates have dropped significantly over the last year with the downturn in global demand and the oversupply of container ships in the market – the main players are:
Maersk – Neptune – K Line – Orient Overseas
According to The Economist shippers will seek economies of scale not only from bigger ships but also from mergers.