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Erik Soderberg, President; and, Michael Jordan, Founder and Chief Structural Engineer,
Liftech, California, USA

Ultra-large container vessels with capacities
nearing 20,000 TEU, also referred to as
‘mega-ships’ or ‘ULCVs’, have arrived and
more are on the way. Many operators and
ports are asking how these vessels will
affect their ship-to-shore (STS) cranes and
This article provides an overview of some
of the effects of mega-ships on existing
STS cranes and wharf infrastructure. Costs
presented in this article are estimates
of construction costs based on recent
projects, and do not include other costs.
Actual costs may vary.

Vessels with 18,000 to 20,000 TEU capacity
are wider and slightly longer than the
previous generation of 12,000 to 15,000
TEU vessels. They have significantly higher
container stacks on deck (See Figures 1 and
2). The largest vessel to date is 19,224 TEU,
but has similar dimensions to the 18,300 Figure 2. Vessel size progression



Top: Figure 4. Mooring dolphin at IMTT Port of Richmond; Bottom: Figure 3. Crane being raised with a jacking frame

raise modifications (See Figure 3). Most The construction cost of a new mooring
cranes built in the last ten years have dolphin with access structure, lighting, and
adequate outreach, but some may require capstan is about $500,000 to $750,000,
small extensions or localised modifications depending on location, water depth, soil
to trolley rail and bumpers. conditions, construction, and operations
Costs of modifying existing cranes vary coordination.
significantly depending on the scope of Some additional STS crane travel length
modifications, location and local labour; and on the wharf can usually be obtained
to a lesser degree, the associated mechanical, with relatively little cost by installing more
electrical, and other modifications, such as compact crane stops and relocating stops
TEU Maersk “EEE” or “TripleE” class vessel to rope drums, trolley cable reel, machinery closer to the end of the wharf.
shown in Figure 2. house service cranes, cabling, lighting,
access ways, new wire rope, etcetera. BERTHING FENDERS
STS CRANE REQUIREMENTS Estimated costs per crane vary from about Fender energy required for vessel berthing
A lift height above the rail of about 51 metres $1.5 million for a short raise with low labour is primarily influenced by vessel approach
is required for servicing mega-ships. This will cost, to about $4.5 million for a tall raise with velocity perpendicular to the wharf
vary depending on the particular vessel, wharf a boom extension and high labour cost. and vessel mass. Current mega-ship
and design water elevations, and desired displacements are significantly more than
clearances between containers on the vessel WHARF BERTHING SPACE the design mass used for many existing
and the lifted container. The outreach is about Today’s mega-ship lengths are not much fender systems, but the approach velocity
60 metres beyond the fender face. This will longer than those of the previous generation. for the mega-ships is less. Often, fenders
vary, depending on the particular vessel and However, some existing berths still require with more energy capacity are required to
desired trolley overrun distance. additional length, which is a costly option. meet industry guidelines. However, it is often
Relative to most existing STS cranes A less costly option, if practical, is to add a practical to continue using existing fender
commissioned in the last ten years, today’s mooring dolphin beyond the wharf so the systems with acceptable risk of damage
mega-ships require an additional lift height vessel can be located closer to the end of to the fender system, wharf, and vessel
of 5 metres or more, necessitating crane the wharf (See Figure 4). structure, but with a plan to replace the



existing systems with higher energy systems structure for mega-ships is impractical, for depending on the existing structure. A less
if damage does occur. The cost of replacing instance if a stronger crane girder is also costly strengthening approach that has
the current fender system is usually not needed, one alternative is removing the worked on several older wharves consists
justified by the cost of improbable future waterside face of the wharf and rebuilding of drilling holes into the wharf structure and
damage. with new structure. installing grouted high-strength reinforcing.
Berthing data for the larger ships indicate Again, the risk of significant single fender
that the berthing velocity and angles are loading is usually small. A study should STS CRANE GIRDERS
significantly less than recommended in be made of the berthing conditions and STS cranes suitable for up to 23-wide vessels
design guidelines. Additionally, contacting expected berthing speeds and angles before typically have larger wheel loads than
only a single fender is significantly less deciding on upgrades. existing cranes procured for smaller design
probable than for smaller vessels. vessels. Wheel loads may exceed the design
If replacing fender systems, if practical, MOORING BOLLARDS or rated capacity of existing wharf girders.
we suggest replacing with deeper fenders to The wind area of today’s loaded mega-ship is Options to address excessive crane loads
limit the fender reaction on the wharf and significantly more than the design ship used include:
vessel structures. If larger fender reactions for most existing mooring systems. Forces • Optimising the crane design to reduce
result, confirm that the wharf structure is of up to 250 tonnes per bollard can occur crane reactions and better suit the
adequate. Typically, only local strengthening for common design winds and mooring line distribution between available landside
of the wharf is required, at a moderate cost. arrangements. Additionally, ship captains and waterside girder capacities
New fender systems for mega-ships, may have concerns about relying on older, • Analysing or load testing the existing
rated at 1,500 kN-m, cost about $70,000 lower capacity bollards and can decide structure and foundation to justify
per fender system furnished and installed. they are not willing to moor their ship to a increasing the rated capacity
They can typically be spaced 20 metres to particular system. • Strengthening the existing girders
25 metres on centre. Lesser spacings may Consider site-specific wind speeds and • Replacing girder systems with new,
be advantageous to align with stronger directions based on historical data when stronger systems
portions of the wharf. determining required bollard capacities as • Consider increasing the crane rail span
Wharf strengthening costs will vary these may justify significantly lower loads. for new cranes, as this can reduce wheel
significantly depending on the capacity of New bollards with increased capacity loads and will permit additional truck
the existing structure—from a fraction of the are relatively inexpensive. Strengthening lanes for operations
fender system cost to more than the fender the wharf local to the bollard, if needed, is Optimising a new crane design or a crane
system cost. If strengthening the existing more costly, with costs varying significantly modification design will reduce wheel loads

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Figure 5. Strut-and-tie girder analysis

some, but there are limits. Typically, this combinations of these. with the planned mooring system. Consider
option is only worthwhile if the existing Fender berthing velocities and angles site-specific wind speeds and directions
crane wheel loads are not significantly more are typically much less than recommended when determining bollard loads.
than the girder’s rated capacities. in design guidelines; consider recent data Increased crane wheel loads may exceed
Analysis or load testing of the existing when determining berthing energies. If a existing rated girder capacities. Engineering
girder structure to justify additional capacity system with increased energy is required, analyses or load testing can often justify
is usually worthwhile as it is the least costly accepting additional risk with existing additional capacity. Strengthening existing
of these options and often yields significant systems is often reasonable. or building new girders will be costly. If new
results. Girders are often designed to Increased mooring forces may require structure and cranes are required, building
have more capacity than stated for the larger, higher-capacity bollards. Installing a new landside or waterside girder can limit
original design loads. A feasibility study by higher capacity bollards requires relatively crane wheel loads and girder construction
a structural engineer is a good first step to little cost unless the wharf structure needs costs.
decide if this approach is practical. Feasibility strengthening, in which case costs can vary Consider performing a study to determine
study costs will vary, but are typically less significantly. Consult ship captains and local your terminal requirements and the most
than $30,000. If feasible, studies to justify pilots to ensure they will be comfortable cost effective approaches.
additional capacity, typically involving one
or more types of analyses, are often $50,000
to $100,000 and are usually successful. See ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE ORGANISATION
Figure 5 for an example of a “strut-and-
tie” girder analysis, which can often justify Erik Soderberg is Liftech’s President Liftech Consultants Inc. is a consulting
additional girder shear capacity. and a structural engineer with 22 years’ engineering firm, founded in 1964, with
Strengthening or replacing a wharf experience in the design, review, and special expertise in the design of ship-
girder will require significant costs, often modification of a variety of structural and to-shore container handling cranes and
requiring new piling. If this is required, crane related systems including hundreds other complex structures. Our experience
and in particular if new cranes will be of container cranes, over a dozen bulk includes structural design for wharves and
procured, building a new landside girder loader structures, and over two dozen wharf structures, heavy lift structures,
and procuring larger gage cranes can limit wharves. Other structures include crane buildings, container yard structures,
girder construction costs, reduce crane lift and transfer systems and concrete and and container handling equipment.
wheel loads, and increase the truck lane steel floats. Our national and international clients
space between the crane legs. include owners, engineers, operators,
Michael Jordan is Liftech’s Founder and manufacturers, and riggers.
SUMMARY chief structural engineer with over 50 years
Today’s mega-ships up to 20,000 TEU will of experience. He is an internationally ENQUIRIES
typically affect existing STS cranes and may recognised expert in the container crane
affect existing infrastructure. industry. He has been involved in container Liftech Consultants Inc.
Existing STS cranes will probably require industry evolution since participating in the 344 – 20th Street
increases to lift height and sometimes structural design of the world’s first ship-to- #360
increases to the outreach to service the new shore container crane for Matson in 1958. Oakland
vessels. Since then, he has designed structures of CA 94612-3593
Increased vessel lengths may require hundreds of duty cycle cranes, prepared USA
changes to berthing arrangements, numerous specifications for the design of Tel: +1 510 832 5606
extending the wharf or just crane girders, duty cycle cranes, and investigated fatigue Email:
modifications to crane stop locations and damage problems and failures caused by
structure, adding mooring dolphins, or fatigue crack growth and brittle fracture.