Never before has a cargo vessel been built under such a glare of publicity.
Today will see the first of Maersk Line’s Triple-E ships named at a ceremony in South Korea, an event that is certain to attract plenty of attention well beyond the maritime world.
Rarely do ships grab the headlines in the way that this newest arrival will as it enters service. Expect to see crowds of sightseers at every port of call.
From the moment former Maersk Line chief executive Eivind Kolding unveiled the $1.9bn order for a series of 18,000 teu vessels at a slick and glitzy press conference in London nearly 30 months ago, construction of these newbuildings has been followed every step of the way.
The ships even have their own website, worldslargestship.com while social media has been used extensively to raise their profile even more. The Discovery Channel will be broadcasting series on the Triple-Es later in the year.
The Danish line is no stranger to pioneering ship designs. Maersk was the first to break the 6,000 teu barrier with the 1996-built, 318 m long Regina Maersk. Nearly a decade later came the 397 m Emma Maersk.
But what a difference between the arrival of those two ship classes and the Triple-Es.
Those earlier groundbreakers, both built at AP Moller-Maersk’s former inhouse shipyard at Lindø in Denmark, were cloaked in secrecy.
Although Maersk Line said the cargo-carrying capacity of Regina Maersk was 6,000 teu, it was tightlipped about the deadweight. In reality, the nominal intake of the ship was about 6% larger than stated at the time, at nearer 6,400 teu.
Emma Maersk was officially declared at around 11,000 teu. Only relatively recently did Maersk Line admit what the industry already knew; that they can theoretically carry 15,5o0 teu. That helped to scale back the relative size of the Triple-Es, with Maersk able to say the additional capacity was fairly modest.
What has been remarkable has been Maersk’s transformation from one of the most media-shy shipowners to one comfortable in the limelight, proud of its achievements and not afraid to speak about them.
That comes with risks attached, of course.
Competitors know that Maersk has paid a high price for its ships and are more than happy to point out that newbuildings ordered today will have somewhat lower slot costs.
The first of the Triple-Es will also enter service at a difficult time in the Asia-Europe trades, with westbound freight rates not far off record lows and cargo volumes weak because of depressed demand in much of Europe.
That will raise questions about whether ships of this size are needed. Only time will tell. Shipping has never been for the faint-hearted.
But Maersk should be applauded for bringing much-needed transparency to an industry that is instinctively secretive. It is good that the general public understands how the merchandise it takes for granted arrives in the shops, supermarkets and showrooms.
Maersk also wants its customers and its customers’ customers to realise that shipping is not the dirty business it is widely perceived to be, but that responsible operators are doing all they can to make their vessels cleaner, safer and more efficient.
Only by talking openly and honestly about what they do will shipowners build that trust.
Whether these ships live up to their billing remains to be seen.
Maersk has a public relations challenge on its hands to convince the rest of the business that the Triple-Es will not become so-called hoovers, sucking up cargo at any cost as their predecessors were alleged to have done.
But the new vessel today named after former AP Moller-Maersk chairman Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller, and its sisterships, will be crowd pleasers wherever they go.
That is good news for an industry forever complaining that it does not receive the recognition it deserves.