You won’t have any trouble finding this Marco Polo in the pool—even with your eyes closed. Five Airbus A380s lined up nose-to-tail still wouldn’t match the length, much less the overwhelming mass, of the world’s largest container ship.
The CMA CGM Marco Polo is the largest container ship ever constructed, capable of transporting 16,020 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit, the standard of international shipping containers) of cargo—820 more the Emma Maersk’s previous record and a tenfold capacity increase from the 1980s. At 400 metres long and 55 metres wide with a 30 metre draft and 187,625 dead weight tonnage, it’s also the largest human construct to ever move across the planet’s surface. It’s larger than both the Queen Mary 2 and the Charles de Gaulle, even America’s Nimitz-Class super carriers. Slap the Empire State building and the Eiffel Tower together—this ship is still bigger.
Built by South Korea’s DSME (Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering) and operated by CMA CGM, a French shipping company, the Marco Polo entered service in November of last year. It transports goods along the French Asia Line (FAL1), an international shipping route that runs from Shanghai, through the Mediterranean, and up the coast of Western Europe to Hamburg.
Despite her massive size—or rather, in spite of it—the Marco Polo is designed for efficiency. The hull incorporates a twisted leading edge rudder which reduces drag. Its single 108,920 HP Wartsila-Sulzer engine features electronic timing that reduces fuel and oil consumption by 3 and 25 percent, respectively. Plus, the ship’s Exhaust Gas Bypass system nets a 1.5 percent fuel savings when it’s manoeuvring in and out of port.
The Marco Polo is this size for a reason—trade. Sea routes are still the most efficient means intercontinental shipping and until we get around to inventing teleporters, that isn’t likely to change. As such, the Marco Polo is only “the world’s biggest movable thing of all time” for right now. Ship builders are already hard at work constructing two more 16000 TEU vessels for CMA CGM which should be making their maiden voyages later this year. What’s more, Danish firm Maersk is looking to take back the title with an even more immense, 18,000 TEU titan scheduled to set sail in 2015.