Dwarfing all that has gone before her, she is quite simply the biggest man-made object to move across the face of our planet.
The giant, brand new container ship, CMA CGM Marco Polo, is on a scale never seen before in the long history of the city’s port.
Marco Polo’s arrival in Southampton, proudly flying the Red Ensign, is another prestigious “first’’ for the city and, once again, underlines just what an important role the docks play in the economy of “UK plc’’.
The fact Marco Polo’s owners, the French line, CMA CGM, has opted for the city’s container terminal for the ship’s sole UK call, is recognition of the reputation the operator, DP World Southampton, now has for expertise, efficiency, and ship handling skills within the maritime industry, A ship of superlatives, Marco Polo, is the first of the next generation of super-vessels destined to keep the wheels of international trade constantly turning as she criss-crosses shipping lanes of the world.
Even Cunard’s flagship, the mighty, 151,000-ton, Queen Mary 2, a familiar sight in Southampton, would be over-shadowed by the container ship, which is also far bigger than the nuclearpowered French aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, western Europe’s largest warship.
With a length equivalent of well in excess of 100 family saloon cars, Marco Polo, able to carry more than 16,000 containers on her vast decks, will tower over the container berth, where vessels of this size will soon be a regular feature on the city’s skyline in the years ahead.
Locked away within the stacks of anonymous steel containers can be anything from televisions to frozen shrimps, fireworks to soft furnishings, and power tools to clothing.
If China makes it, then it is likely the vast range of products flowing out of the factories in manufacturing centres such as Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, will be brought into the country through Southampton in the piles of metal boxes.
Another two container ships of similar size, each also named after famous explorers, are set to follow Marco Polo during 2013.
Although size does matter when it comes to container ships, Marco Polo has many other features setting her apart from other vessels.
She boasts all the latest environmental technologies such as an electronically controlled engine allowing reduced consumption of fuel, improved hull design which results in lower CO2 emissions, and a ballast water treatment system, in order to preserve the biodiversity of the oceans by not rejecting chemicals into seawater.
It was only last September when Associated British Ports (ABP), owners and operators of Southampton Docks, launched its £150m redevelopment of the container terminal, which will enable the port to continue handling the largest vessels afloat, such as Marco Polo.
Earlier this week, ABP also announced it has received the necessary marine licence to carry out a key component of its dredging programme in the port of Southampton, further improving marine access for large container vessels.
Today, Marco Polo made her dramatic entrance into the Solent, along Southampton Water and then berthed at the city’s container terminal for 24 hours before leaving for Hamburg, Germany.
Built by Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering of South Korea, the giant of the seas connects central and south China, the main exporting zones of the Far East industrial powerhouse, with Southampton providing European importers the fastest transit times of the market.
Over the past 20 years or so, the size of container vessels have steadily increased as ship owners look for an economy of scale.
Back in the 1980s the number of containers carried on some ships could be as low as 1,600 but today, with the arrival of Marco Polo, capacity has increased up to ten fold.
Marco Polo, 1,300 feet long, 117 feet wide and with a draft of 52 feet, took the title of the largest container ship afloat from Emma Maersk, built in 2006 and able to carry 15,550 containers.
However the CMA CGM ship will probably only hold the title for one year before the Danish line’s vessels capable of carrying 18,000 containers begin operating.
Nicolas Sartini, CMA CGM Group’s senior vice-president Asia-Europe Lines, said: “It is with great pride that we launch Marco Polo, which is the largest in the world.
“It shows the expertise of the group’s teams, who are able to handle not only the very technical piloting of the ship but also its commercial operations.
“Our entire network of 400 agencies all around the world is active to ensure the successful launching of this ship.’’ Under ABP’s dredging programme a total of 450,000 cubic metres of material will be removed at the Marchwood Moorings, which widen the navigation channel by 30 metres, resulting in improved accessibility for container vessels using the existing berths operated by DP World Southampton.
The port regularly demonstrates its capability to handle ships in excess of 13,000 containers on its existing berth and the dredging will further simplify vessel turning and manoeuvrability.
Doug Morrison, ABP’s Southampton port director, said: “This is another step to ensure that marine access to all container berths meets the future needs of our customers and maintains the port’s position at the forefront of global trade.
“The redevelopment of berths 201 and 202 will allow us to handle the largest vessels on order, and the channel widening works at Marchwood will have the added benefit of ensuring we maintain the highest navigational safety standards in the port.’’ Dredging is expected to have been completed by the spring of next year.