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Fastest Container and Cargo Ships in the World

Savio is a resident of Mumbai, India. Cars, bikes, and everything fast are his passion, and he writes about them on many sites.

Container Ships - An Introduction

Let me start with some stats over here. Nearly 80-85% world trade is through water-ways and almost 80% of that is through containers. This has led to the containers becoming larger and faster. When the ships become larger and there is a need for it to move at a decent speed, some level of compromise has to be arrived at between size and speed. And somewhere, in an unwritten form, it was concluded that the choice would be size over speed.

The size increase of container ships is similar to the ones experienced among seafaring supertankers in the 1960s. However, supertanker demand decreased with other options like gas and oil pipelines coming up and the oil shock of the 70s. Will it be the same fate with container ships as well? Appears unlikely from here, I mean how else would someone transport a car manufactured in Japan to South – East Asian countries? So, at least in the near future, we may still see the container ships whistling around the sea-ways.

The trend is also visible in the fact that in the larger than 20,000 TEU category, there are four different groups of container ships, and all introduced in the last three years. This will, in turn, be relieving the aging and smaller container ships. For ease of understanding, we will, therefore, focus only on the greater than 20,000 TEU containers, which anyway will be the ones in service going forth.

Also, just to add spice to the line-up, we will also be introducing the only cargo cum container ship which can do 400 kmph. You heard me right, and it is called an Ekranoplan, which was in service till the 1990s and relieved after that. If things have to be believed, Boeing is planning to bring one back and that is what we will be seeing soon.

List of Fastest Container and Cargo Ships

Here is the list of fastest container and cargo ships. Each one is elaborated below.

ShipsTop Speed

Boeing Pelican

259 knots [298 mph or 480 kmph] [Expected]

Maersk Boston

36.5 knots [42 mph or 67.6 kmph]

Maersk Beaumont

35 knots [40.3 mph or 65 kmph]

Algol Class Cargo Ships

33 knots [38 mph or 61 kmph]

OOCL Class Container Ships

24+ knots [27.6 mph or 44.4 kmph]

Madrid Maersk

24 knots [27.6 mph or 44.4 kmph]

MOL Triumph

24 knots [27.6 mph or 44.4 kmph]

CMA CGM Antoine de Saint Exupery

22 knots [25.3 mph or 40.7 kmph]

1. Boeing Pelican

fastest-container-and-cargo-ships-in-the-world

This is the largest Ekranoplan but is a concept at the moment. Now, those who have read my article on the fastest navy ships and fastest aircraft carriers would have been introduced to the concept of an Ekranoplan. Anyway for everyone’s benefit here’s a brief explanation. Ekranoplans are high-speed low-altitude vehicles utilizing the favorable conditions of Ground Effect while flying. Flying closer to the land surface, roughly 5-10 meters over the surface, these crafts can nullify the effect of the downward push of the air on the wings because of ground interference. The ground over here is usually a water body (ocean, sea, river, etc.) but movement over land is also possible. That’s the technical explanation, a simpler my kind of explanation is that these are vehicles which can fly but closer to the ground surface. Such vehicles are not classified as aircraft, ships or any other type but as ground-effect vehicles, a whole new kind.

  • Name: Boeing Pelican
  • Country: United States of America
  • Top Speed: 259 knots [298 mph or 480 kmph] [Expected]
  • Sustained Speed: 240 knots [276 mph or 445 kmph]
  • Displacement: 1,400 tons
  • Year of Service/Manufacture: 2025 [Expected]
  • Status: Ready by 2025 [Expected]

The Pelican when ready will be the largest aircraft in history. Aircraft, but isn’t it an Ekranoplan? Yes, it is but it will be built for a dual purpose. The Pelican is not expected to be anchored over a water surface when standing still rather is going to be parked in a hangar. And where do we find hangars? You got it.

The Pelican can take-off from a runway and reach a height of 20,000 feet over land if required. Over the sea or ocean surface, it will work like an Ekranoplan. It would be able to carry five times the payload of Antonov An-225, the current air-giant. In fact, the Pelican would be twice as large as the An-225. Those are huge dimensions capable of moving at an incredible speed. Imagine the payload of the biggest container ship today, being moved to the destination at eight-to-ten times the speed. How would the world look then? Amazing, isn’t it?

Well, despite its size and dimensions, the Pelican is slated to be the fastest civilian ship once launched.

2. Maersk Boston

fastest-container-and-cargo-ships-in-the-world

After knowing the Pelican, the Maersk Boston would appear like crawling over water. However, this is no concept and is the current fastest container ship in the world. It may not be as big as the OOCL Hong Kong, another container ship on this list, but is fast enough to put every other container ship behind. In fact, it is faster than the Algol class cargo ships as well.

  • Name: Maersk Boston
  • Country: Registered in Denmark
  • Type: Container Ship
  • Top Speed: 36.5 knots [42 mph or 67.6 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 29 knots [33.4 mph or 53.7 kmph]
  • Tonnage: 53,634 [Dead Weight] | 48,853 [Gross Tonnage]
  • Displacement: ~25,848 tons
  • Length: 294 meters [979 feet]
  • Capacity: 4,196 TEU
  • Year of Service/Manufacture: 2006
  • Status: In Service

The Boston is the first of the B-class of fast container ships built to travel between U.S. and China. The economic downturn saw its delayed deployment as much as that of its six sister ships. Lengthwise it is smaller than the large ships that Maersk builds but was still capable of carrying around 4000 odd containers.

3. Maersk Beaumont

fastest-container-and-cargo-ships-in-the-world

Beaumont is the sister ship of the Boston and is one of the seven B-class fast container ships. It was laid up due to the 2008 economic slowdown. It took it a couple of years to come back to service. The Beaumont, however, does not do the high speeds it was built for rather about 20 knots or so in an effort to save fuel.

  • Name: Maersk Beaumont
  • Country: Registered in Denmark
  • Type: Container Ship
  • Top Speed: 35 knots [40.3 mph or 65 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 29 knots [33.4 mph or 53.7 kmph]
  • Tonnage: 53,890 [Dead Weight] | 48,788 [Gross Tonnage]
  • Displacement: ~25,814 tons
  • Length: 294 meters [979 feet]
  • Capacity: ~4,000TEU
  • Year of Service/Manufacture: 2007
  • Status: In Service

Most of these high – speed container ships of the B-class would have lost the reason for the speed in the first place. It is a lot better to do the same distance at a pace of 12-14 knots and make the overall logistics economical.

4. Algol Class Cargo Ships

In Navy Ship Form

In Navy Ship Form

This is the only cargo ship on the list and is the fourth fastest overall. The Algol class was of eight ships each capable of going at 33 knots, however, the speed meant that the upkeep of these vessels was expensive. These ships struggled to turn profitable and were supposed to be retired. A second chance came its way when the U.S. Navy purchased all the ships for its speed. It was modified thereafter to serve the Navy's purpose.

  • Name: Algol - Class Ships [total 8]
  • Country: Built in Netherland
  • Type: Cargo Ship
  • Top Speed: 33 knots [38 mph or 61 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 29 knots [33.4 mph or 53.7 kmph]
  • Tonnage: approx. 104,600 [Gross Tonnage]
  • Displacement: 55,350 tons
  • Length: 288 meters [959 feet]
  • Capacity: ~90 passengers
  • Year of Service/Manufacture: 1972-73
  • Status: In Service

Interestingly, these ships participated in the Iraq war of 1991 and managed cargo movement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. The ships' operations were quite expensive for the Navy too and were laid-up at times but kept in ready condition should the need arise. As of 2008, these ships are no longer serving in the Navy.

5. OOCL Class Container Ships

fastest-container-and-cargo-ships-in-the-world

The Orient Overseas Container Lines had ordered for six 21,000 TEU capacity container ships. Six of this size were built and completed in 2017. They are the newest additions to the container world and the biggest of them all. They dwarf the Emma Maersk, one of the previous largest ship, by more than 3000 TEUs. They are as large as large can be and yet can do a 24 knots sprint.

  • Name: OOCL 21,000 TEU Container Ships [total 6]
  • Country: Registered in Hong Kong
  • Type: Super Container Ship
  • Top Speed: 24+ knots [27.6 mph or 44.4 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 22.5 knots [25.9 mph or 41.7 kmph]
  • Tonnage: 210,890 [Gross Tonnage]
  • Displacement: ~111,582 tons
  • Length: 399.87 meters [1,331.6 feet]
  • Capacity: 21,413 TEU
  • Year of Service/Manufacture: 2017
Length Comparison between OOCL Ships and Other Longest Ships

Length Comparison between OOCL Ships and Other Longest Ships

Though not shown in the above picture, the OOCL Hong Kong and her sisters are longer than the Mc-Kinney. They would be just after the Knock-Nevis, the longest ship ever built. In fact, most of the container ships built after 2016 in the super container category will have around the same length as the OOCL sisters. Also, the Knock – Nevis, sadly, was scrapped in 2010 and that makes the OOCL sisters one of the longest ships in the world in service today.

So, who are the OOCL sisters? The OOCL Hong Kong, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, Scandinavia, and Indonesia are the ships.

6. Madrid Maersk

fastest-container-and-cargo-ships-in-the-world

The Madrid Maersk was the second largest container ship after the OOCL Hong Kong at the time of its launch. The Antoine, post its launch, was the second largest in terms of TEU. The Madrid Maersk is part of 11 ships ordered by Maersk to ease out its old container ships by end of 2018. These are part of Maersk’s second generation Triple E class container ships. Some stats of these ships.

  • Name: Madrid Maersk [11 ships in total]
  • Country: Registered in Denmark
  • Type: Super Container Ship
  • Top Speed: 24 knots [27.6 mph or 44.4 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 22 knots [25.3 mph or 40.7 kmph]
  • Tonnage: 214,286 [Gross Tonnage]
  • Displacement: ~113,378 tons
  • Length: 399 meters [1,328.7 feet]
  • Capacity: 20,568 TEU
  • Year of Service/Manufacture: 2017

Most of the ships of this group were launched between 2017 and 2018. The ships include Madrid Maersk, Munich Maersk, Moscow Maersk, Milan Maersk, Monaco Maersk, Marseille Maersk, Manchester Maersk, Murcia Maersk, Manila Maersk, Mumbai Maersk and Maastricht Maersk. Barring the Maastricht, all others have been launched till May 2018.

7. MOL Triump

fastest-container-and-cargo-ships-in-the-world

This is the fourth largest container ship in the world, following the OOCL sisters, CGM Antoine and Maersk second generation Triple E class of container ships. Though the fourth largest currently, it was the first 20,000 TEU ship to be launched. The other ships were launched after the Triumph.

  • Name: MOL Triumph
  • Country: Built in South Korea
  • Type: Super Container Ship
  • Top Speed: 24 knots [27.6 mph or 44.4 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 22 knots [25.3 mph or 40.7 kmph]
  • Tonnage: 192,672 [Dead Weight Tonnage]
  • Displacement: ~120,000 odd tons
  • Length: 399.98 meters [1,331.9 feet]
  • Capacity: 20,170 TEU
  • Year of Service/Manufacture: 2015

Much like other ships mentioned here, the Triumph too will have five sister ships being launched very soon.

8. CMA CGM Antoine de Saint Exupery

fastest-container-and-cargo-ships-in-the-world

This is the largest ship under the French flag which was completed in 2017 and entered service in 2018. The Antoine has a capacity of 20,776 TEU making it the second largest ships in terms of capacity after the OOCL sisters.

  • Name: CMA CGM Antoine de Saint Exupery
  • Country: Built for France
  • Type: Super Container Ship
  • Top Speed: 22 knots [25.3 mph or 40.7 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 21 knots [24.15 mph or 38.9 kmph]
  • Tonnage: 217,673 [Gross Tonnage]
  • Displacement: ~115,170 tons
  • Length: 399.99 meters [1,331.96 feet]
  • Capacity: 20,776 TEU
  • Year of Service/Manufacture: 2018

The Antoine, though slower than the OOCL container ships, it is marginally longer than them all.

Back to Port

The container ships, barring the Ekranoplan, can do just about 20-36 knots. The question is whether this segment will move towards the Ekranoplans or faster container ships. The latter seems unlikely considering most container ships are now choosing to cruise at 12 to 14 knots so as to save fuel. Interestingly, at this speed, the would be sailing at the same speed as ships did in the 19th century – literally, going back in time. So, for such consignments which have decent lead times, slow-moving container ships may still be a viable option. This could only be disrupted if the Ekranoplans become big enough to carry a full load as much as the OOCL Hong Kong and still do the speeds that the Pelican is expected to do. If that happens then the container world will change completely. Keep watching this space and let’s see how it pans out.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Savio Koman