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超级大船的尴尬:The Megaships That Broke Global Trade

超级大船的尴尬:The Megaships That Broke Global Trade

By Marc LevinsonOct. 22, 2020 12:31 pm ET WSJ

On August 16, 2006, five tugboats dragged Emma Maersk from a Danish shipyard and towed her backward to the sea. The length of four soccer fields, her keel nearly a hundred feet below her deck, Emma was far larger than any container ship ever before ordered and by far the most expensive. She was a bet on globalization: By transporting a container more cheaply than any other vessel afloat, she and her six sister ships were expected to stimulate even faster growth in international trade, lowering the cost of moving goods through the supply chains that had reshaped the global economy and turned China into the world’s workshop.

The opposite occurred. Though supremely efficient at sea, Emma and the even larger ships that followed in her wake became a nightmare. By making freight transportation slower and less reliable than it had been decades earlier, they helped to stifle the globalization of manufacturing well before Brexit, Donald Trump and Covid-19 came along.

Container ships are the workhorses of globalization. Operating on regular schedules—such that an identical vessel departs Shanghai every Wednesday, stops in Singapore nine days later and arrives in Antwerp five weeks hence, with tight connections to barges and freight trains—intermodal container transport gave manufacturers and retailers the confidence to plan tightly organized long-distance supply chains. Before Emma, each new generation of ships since the dawn of the container age in 1956 had been slightly larger than the one before. The rationale was straightforward: On a per-container basis, a larger vessel cost less to build and operate than a smaller one, allowing the owner to undercut competitors’ cargo rates and still earn a healthy profit.

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Harvey Yan

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