Container shipping leader APL announced its latest innovation: 53-foot ocean containers that could significantly alter the U.S. import market.
The Singapore-based carrier said it will take delivery of the world’s first ‘ocean-capable’ 53-foot boxes November 7. The first units will be deployed as a weekly service on APL’s premier South China to Los Angeles service.
The creator of outsize containers in the 1980s, APL said its latest innovation – premium big-box service on a regular, weekly basis - has the potential to make a significant difference to the economics of Transpacific trade.
The 53-foot container has become fundamental to domestic intermodal transportation in the U.S. But to date, other than for occasional cargo lifts when repositioning new containers from Asia to the U.S., 53-foot boxes haven’t been strong enough to endure the rigors of ocean transport. Instead, importers ship cargo to the U.S. West Coast in 20, 40 or 45-foot boxes, then trans-load – or transfer – their shipments to 53-foot containers at U.S. ports for truck or rail transport to the final destination.
The new, reinforced 53-foot boxes are built specifically for international trade and designed to withstand ocean voyages. That means cargo can now be transported from factories in Asia all the way to U.S. store doors without trans-loading.
According to APL, 53-foot containers could become the transport method of choice for customers moving cargo to inland U.S. destinations. The bigger boxes have 60% more capacity than standard 40-foot containers. They’re 9 feet 6 inches high and 102 inches wide – six inches wider than standard boxes. That extra space enables shippers to consolidate more cargo into fewer containers.
Fifty-three-foot ‘ocean-capable’ containers are just the latest in a series of initiatives from APL aimed at easing congestion. In August, APL introduced the industry’s fastest South Asia-to-U.S. East Coast service through the Suez Canal. In late 2006, APL Logistics
teamed up with Con-way Freight to create OceanGuaranteed, a day-definite, cost-effective service connecting seven Asian ports
to any U.S. destination.
APL has concluded pilot tests of 53-foot ocean containers with key U.S. retailers. The successful trials led to the decision to order the big boxes for immediate use with select customers.
The 53-foot boxes become part of a legacy of containerized trade innovations from APL. The carrier helped pioneer intermodalism in the 1980s by developing double-stack rail cars and post-Panamax vessels – ships too large to transit the Panama Canal.
Those two developments led to the trade pattern that dominates today’s U.S. import market: ocean transport of cargo from Asia to the U.S. West Coast, then rail transport to points East.