Container ships  |  The giants of the sea

Super freighters on course for Hamburg

When, on 31 May 1968 the ‘American Lancer’ tied up in Hamburg at Burchardkai, there was tension, curiosity and a little bit of scepticism in the air. Some 1,200 guests gathered at the pier to give the first container ship to enter the Port of Hamburg a fitting welcome. The Hamburg traders and politicians had never seen such a thing before; a whole ship full of containers. Burchardkai quay had been re-equipped with expensive gantry cranes. People might have wondered if it would it be worth it. 50 years on no one would ask such a question.


At that time only a few dozen containers were handled, today up to 14,5000 TEU (standard containers) go over the quay wall, when a large container ship ties up in Hamburg. Since the beginning of containerization, the ships have grown in such a way that would have been unimaginable 50 years ago. The ‘American Lancer’ (213-metres-long) had a transport capacity of 1,200 TEU, today the largest container ship in the world the ‘OOCL Hong Kong’ (400-metres-long) can carry over 21,000 standard containers – and that with a crew of only 22. Impressive that although the loading capacity has increased by a multiple of 18 the length has not even doubled. Made possible by ingenious engineering, always new designs, cutting edge loading and discharge technology allowing more and more loading capacity to be used optimally on the mega-ships.


American Lancer at Burchardkai, Photo: HHLA



American Lancer

OOCL Hong Kong

213 meters

400 meters

1,200 TEU

21,000 TEU

The challenge of the ultra-large ship

Today about 9,000 ocean-going ships reach the Port of Hamburg annually, of these about half are container ships. The number of ultra-large ships is increasing continually. This issues a challenge to ports worldwide, including Hamburg. Nautical accessibility, safe channels through the Elbe must be ensured. The road and rail infrastructure in and around the port must be able to carry the load. The container terminals in the Port of Hamburg have invested in the latest handling equipment so that the ocean giants can be served quickly and efficiently. All this is important for Hamburg as Germany’s largest seaport to guarantee economic success for our country. As an export nation we are dependent on the performance capacity of the Port of Hamburg long-term.

The world fleet comprises

almost 5,200 container ships

with a capacity of

21 million containers (TEU)

Which ships are in the Port of Hamburg at the moment?

Follow ship movements using the port plan

Why are container ships always getting bigger?

There is a reason for this: the bigger the ship, the more containers it can carry, and that at almost the same cost. A 15,000-TEU ship has a crew just as big as a 20,000-TEU ship. Fuel costs are not very different. Construction costs are almost the same. This is why each new generation of container ships breaks the size record every time. But the end is in sight, these ultra-large ships can only call at a few ports; deployment flexibility is lost.

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The largest container ships in the Port of Hamburg

Last year for the first time a container ship with a loading capacity of 20,000 TEU and more called at the Port of Hamburg. On 15 May 2017 the ‘MOL Triumph’ the first 20,000-TEU ship tied up at the HHLA Container Terminal Burchardkai, in Hamburg. On 15 March 2018 the ‘CMA CGM ANTOINE DE SAINT EXUPERY’ an even bigger container ship came into the

MOL Triumph


Length: 400 meters

Width: 58.8 meters

Depth: 16 meters

Container: 20,170 TEU

Technical details

CMA CGM Antoine de Saint Exupery


Length: 400 meters

Width: 59.0 meters

Depth: 16 meters

Container: 20,776 TEU

Technical details


From cog to container ship

To move the amount of goods that a modern 14,000-TEU container ship can transport:

… in the 15th century you would have employed all the cog boats belonging to the Hanseatic League for a whole year.

… the breakbulk freighter “Cap San Diego” (built in 1962) would have had to make the journey 15 times.

… 190 goods trains would be needed to move this amount.

… at least 7,000 trucks to carry the containers on the roads

… the loading capacity of 1,000 Airbus A380s.



Hafen Hamburg Marketing e.V. (HHM)

Pickhuben 6

20457 Hamburg



In co-operation of

Hafen Hamburg Marketing e.V. (HHM),

Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG and

Hamburg Port Authority AöR