Ninety thousand cargo ships crisscross the seas every year, carrying a total of 17 million containers of cargo. What lies within is the stuff that fills our lives and moves our economy. From food to footwear to pharmaceuticals, getting these everyday goods from the production line to homes around the globe is a big job, and these ocean freighters have the muscle to do it.
Make no mistake, these ships are massive. The first American Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)-fueled cargo ship set to launch this fall is more than two football fields long and cleaner than ever. Maersk's Triple-E ships, the world's newest and largest, is taller than the Eiffel Tower and can carry 18,000 twenty-foot containers – that's roughly 864 million bananas. The vessel is so impressive it inspired Lego to make a mini version using 1,516 bricks.
However, unlike Legos, building these mammoth vessels is no small task. And until now, ensuring they are not only good for the economy, but also the planet seemed impossible.
At Okpo, a port in South Korea, 46,000 people work to build 100 of the world's most impressive cargo ships annually, including the Maersk Triple-E. Photographer Alastair Wiper did an amazing job capturing this process for WIRED last year. Each vessel takes roughly three months, depending on size, and can require up to 12,000 steel plates – enough to cover eight football fields - which are broken into 127,000 pieces before being welded back together. But unlike their predecessors, these mega ships are designed for lower speeds. Lower speeds means lower fuel consumption, which means lower CO2 emissions.
Back in the US, recent booms in domestic energy production and a recovering manufacturing sector have kept thousands of Americans employed by the ship building industry in places like Philadelphia and along the West Coast.
Construction of TOTE's new LNG-powered ship employed 600 in Southern California alone. But it's not just jobs these ships are supporting. With clean-burning LNG as its fuel and this TOTE's ship surpasses both the Environmental Protection Agency's clean air regulations and standards set by the United Nations to reduce air pollution in the maritime sector. This next generation of mega ships are some of the world's largest – and truly the most environmentally friendly.
This is Part One of a three part series exploring how cargo ships are fueling a global economic and environmental recovery. Next week, we'll look at what powers cargo ships. Hint: it's a bit bigger than your car's engine.