SIW10734imagelShip designers have steadily tried to push boundaries over the last decade. During the bulk boom, efforts concentrated on maximising the cargo capacity of the standard ship-sizes to enable owners to efficiently capitalise on Chinese-led commodities demand. More recently, attention has increasingly focused on engine efficiency. The result has been gradual evolution of vessel designs, which mean that sometimes changes are needed to the statistical framework and terms used to understand the shipping industry.

Historically, the standard Handymax design of the 1990s was a ship of about 45,000 dwt. But around 2001, a few shipyards in Japan began to market a new design of just over 50,000 dwt, best typified by Tsuneishi’s TESS 52 design. This, and its evolutions of 52-58,000 dwt, proved very popular with owners in providing a flexible, geared vessel with 5 holds/hatches, a 32.2m beam, and a LOA of circa 190m. More than 1,800 such ‘Supramax’ ships have been ordered since. At one point, as many as 55 yards had Su-pramaxes on order.

Super Design Efforts

Ship designers had managed to in-crease the deadweight within the same physical dimensions, allow-ing these larger vessels to trade into traditional Handymax ports. But they were not satisfied. Design houses such as SDARI and Greenseas began to come up with expanded 5-hold designs of slightly greater LOA, improving the vessel’s capacity to about 63,000 dwt.


These new ‘Ultramax’ designs have proven popular (see graph). 58 owners have ordered at 22 different yards, notably those of the Si-nopacific, Oshima and Imabari groups.
When the Facts Change…

However, these ‘Ultramax’ vessels present a problem for analysts used to organising the bulk fleet into neat categories based on deadweight. In terms of physical dimensions, and their 5 holds/hatches, these ships are clearly upsized Handymax/Supramax designs. But until now, as vessels above 60,000 dwt, these have been included in our ‘Panamax’ category.

This is not the first time definitions have needed review: once upon a time, there were Panamaxes below 60,000 dwt with 7 holds/hatches, and until the start of 2006, Clarkson Research (and the shipping industry) referred to all vessels above 80,000 dwt as Capesizes – but this was changed to allow for Kamsarmaxes, generally accepted as part of the wider Panamax sector.

The Ultramax designs mean that a similar change is now required again. From this week, Clarkson Research will define Handymaxes as 40-65,000 dwt, and Panamaxes as 65,000+ dwt: with one important exception. The (declining) fleet of old-style 7-hold Panamaxes built in the 80s and 90s will continue to be regarded as Panamaxes. While this is not perfect, and there are still a few oddities like chip carriers or a few wide beam ships, this change ensures that Ultramax vessels are now categorised as part of the wider Handymax sector, with which they compete.