Size Matters

Singapore-Container shipping company 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.

"Our objective is to move big-box economics farther back in the supply chain to the point where products are manufactured in Asia," said Ron Widdows, CEO of APL. "We're responding to customers who want new levels of efficiency in their containerized trade."

The 53-foot container has become fundamental to domestic intermodal transportation in the U.S. To date, however, 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- and 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.

APL is looking to change all of that. 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.

"In the challenging, congested business environment we face today, with enormous escalation in rail and other inland transportation charges, our customers' primary drivers are speed, predictability and cost effectiveness," said Bob Sappio, APL's senior vice president for the Transpacific Trade. Sappio added that APL's new 53-foot ocean containers will address three critical global trade issues:

• Cost: by using 53-foot boxes, shippers can gain better cube economics and eliminate trans-loading expenses;

• Supply chain congestion: two 53-foot containers hold the contents of three 40-footers, so there should be fewer containers to handle and fewer moves;

• The environment: by cutting down on trans-loading and reducing the number of truck moves, traffic and exhaust emissions can be curtailed.

"The 53-foot container is an innovation that holds promise," said Michael Jacobs, senior vice president of logistics for Toys "R" Us. "It can help international shippers control costs and simplify complex supply chains."

"Fifty-three-foot boxes have always made sense for domestic use in the U.S.," added Kelly Callaghan of global athletic products provider New Balance. "By eliminating the need to trans-load international shipments, they make more sense than ever."

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