Only a good 20 seamen, most of whom are officers, carry out all the work on a container ship which is nearly 400 meters long and a good 50 meters wide. Giants like this take 42 days to sail from South-East Asia to the USA and back again, exactly to plan, despite varying weather conditions. In the meantime, container ships have become so important, that with their 20 million transports per year, they cover at least half of the world-wide goods-trade.
Behind the scenes are very sophisticated logistics. The enormous amount of goods to be transported must be manufactured and be at the harbour at exactly the right time, before the ship comes into dock. The stacking of the containers is a science in itself, a great deal of reorganisation must not be necessary in the next harbour. Harbour-fees increase the expenses and delay the delivery.
In the main part, there are two standards for international container transport, container lengths of 20 ft (6.10 m) and 40 ft (12.20 m). The larger ships of the smaller ones can take on about 8000, in the future, ships are being planned to take on up to 14000. Nowadays, they start with a draft of a good 13 meters, that means 9 floors of containers up to the waterline is possible, above the waterline a further 6 to 8 floors are possible, all together a height of way over 40 meters.
Of course, each container must be lashed down against the lateral forces, so that they don't start to move around, even during heavy storms. Over the length of the ship there are suitable supporting structures. In addition, the regular checking of perishable goods must be carried out. Up to 1000 of them can be permanently cooled by current, which is generated by several auxiliary diesels with ten times the power of truck engines The container was invented already in the 1940s, by Malcom McLean, indeed, it could only assert itself in a larger transport company at the end of the 1950s.
Large, modern marine Diesels have a performance of about 74.000 kW (100.000 hp). The amount of cylinders is more variable than motor vehicle engines, e.g., they may have 12 or 14 cylinders. There are also smaller marine engines, which have 7 cylinders. In big-engine two-strokes this means an unbelievable 100 RPM. Together with the streamlined bulbous bow, which is mostly just under the waters surface, these giants can achieve a speed of approx. 45 kmh (25 sea-miles/hour).
When travelling fast and full load, approx. 300 tons of fuel are used per day, this is of course not Diesel fuel, This is a sort of crude oil that must be heated to well above 100°C and filtered extensively to give it a suitable consistency so that it can be injected. An important savings-factor is to sail in as straight a line as possible. Indeed, sudden changes of course are not possible anyway, with ships of this size. Problems with ships moving around in the vicinity of harbours are quite common. Once they're in the harbour itself, nothing is done without the help from tug-boats in addition to the over 3000 kW, electrically powered bow-thruster rudder.
As with a car the particularly fast ride is rather not worthwhile. With today's fuel prices, even if the price of heavy oil is much lower, costs can be almost halved at something slower speeds. One can see just how tight the calculation is in container shipping by considering how- and where they "fill up". This is done by tank vessels and is made as often in the commercial vehicle distance traffic at the cheapest place on the entire tour, for example, in Rotterdam. At around 3600 US-Dollars per ton of the crude-oil mix one arrives at a liter-price of around 36 euro-cents, worlds apart from that which the heavily taxed public has to pay for fuel.
Of course, such a giant still has other tanks. Despite the utilization of each meter cargo space the giant bunkers approximately 11,000 tons of fuel. Of course, that can even be stored in otherwise not very good usable spaces. This means, that in theory, they could sail at full power, for 40 days, so much for a return trip again to achieve the favorable place to refuel. By the way, these tankers need at least 8 to 10 hours for the 'filling-up procedure'. Despite the Bitumen-like material, the safety measures taken against possible fires breaking out, are very strict and are practised regularly. In addition, there is approximately one-third of diesel fuel for driving in the port and in specially protected areas.
As far as marine engine-inspections are concerned, one also has to be retrained from road-vehicle engines. As you may be able to see in the (enlarged) above picture, there are doors, half the size of a person, the engine can be entered and one can move around. Even though loose bolts have to sometimes be worked on with a hammer, the tolerances of maximum one tenth of a millimeter, make it clear that one cannot assume gross- or rough workmanship. 02/13