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MSC GÜLSÜN docks at Bremerhaven – and sails into a storm

The world’s first 24-across container vessel, the 23,800 TEU, currently the world’s largest container ship, docked for the first time on 19th August at MSC Gate terminal in Bremerhaven, but questions are being raised in the German ports community

Following a construction period of around three years, the ship was taken into operation by the MSC on 4 July 2019 and put into 2M’s Silk/AE10 service between Asia and Europe, starting in Xingang in early July.

With a length of 399.9m, a width of 61.5m, a draught of up to 16.5m and a transport capacity of around 23,800 TEU, MSC GÜLSÜN surpasses the current record holder, from Orient Overseas Container Line’s (OOCL) G-class.

Friedrich Stuhrmann, Managing Director of MSC Gate (Eurogate and MSC) said on the occasion of the first port call: “The dimensions of this new ship class are imposing and represent the next step in ever larger ship sizes. The privilege to be a fixed port of call on the maiden voyage of such a mega vessel is really exciting for all concerned.

"Obviously, we are well-prepared for the arrival of the “MSC GÜLSUN” and will handle the ship with our usual quality. MSC Gate already handles several ships a week in MSC’s Pegasus class and Maersk’s Triple-E class, and therefore demonstrates its performance capacity on a weekly basis. We also have the capability to handle this new ship class.”

MSC GÜLSÜN on the approach to MSC Gate Terminal, Bremerhaven on 19th august
MSC GÜLSÜN on the approach to MSC Gate Terminal, Bremerhaven on 19th august

Robert Howe, Managing Director of the port management company, Bremenports, said: “The first port call at the MSC Gate Terminal demonstrates that Container Terminal Bremerhaven is capable of offering the next generation of container ships a custom-fit infrastructure. We will continue to be a reliable and competent partner in the competition between locations. To do so, we will need to carry out further adjustment measures on the quaysides. Together with the terminal operators, we are gearing ourselves up for this.”

MSC GÜLSÜN is the first of 11 ships in total in the so-called MSC Megamax-24 class, which MSC has commissioned from two Korean shipyards, Samsung and Hyundai. The first sister ship, MSC MINA, is now also on its maiden voyage from Eastern Asia to Europe. It is scheduled to call at Bremerhaven, probably on 9 September 2019.

Gunther Bonz, President of UVHH
Gunther Bonz, President of UVHH

Not everyone in the German ports community welcomes these developments. In comments to the DPA (German Press Agency) earlier this month, Gunther Bonz, of Eurogate group and President of the Port of Hamburg Employers’ Assoication (UVHH), made the point that large vessels require huge additional investments in port infrastructure - bigger turning circles, deeper quay walls and deeper and wider fairways, and so on and "these investments have to be paid for by taxpayers."

Bonz has the support of many politicians in the Hamburg Parliament. They are openly questioning the rationality of the container shipping industry, as it generates low profits while imposing huge extra costs on society.

Bonz, who is also current President of Feport, told the DPA that he knows of a plan to build a 460m long and 68m wide container vessel with an intake of 30,000 TEU, and "this cannot be allowed to stand."

He has called on the European Commission to take action. In future, he said, the EU should link carrier block exemptions to a stipulation that vessels beyond a certain size will be prohibited from calling at any EU port. The current EU block exemption from anti-trust laws expires in March 2020.

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