All aboard the new Triple-E

Madrid Mærsk is the first of the second-generation Triple-E container ships to join the fleet. Maersk Post joined her first voyage from Asia to Europe, bringing even more cargo from production to eager consumers on the other side of the world.

Triple-E aboard
“You have to be humble to the elements and to the size of the vessel. Don’t be afraid of it, but have a huge respect for it,” says Captain Larsen, Captain on Madrid Maersk. Photo: Jesper Schwartz.

The cost crusher

The new generation of Triple-E ships can carry more containers than their predecessors, even with the same dimensions. The added engine efficiency can reinforce Maersk Line’s market and cost leadership positions.

The crew gather in a corner of the bridge, near the coffee machine, waiting for Captain Niels Larsen.

“We said we’d have a debrief after leaving the Suez Canal, but I have a problem,” Larsen says, as the Madrid Mærsk finalises the exit into the Mediterranean on her maiden voyage, emerging from a narrow passage where sandbanks and rocks lurk just metres from the side of the ship.

The atmosphere becomes a little tenser as the Captain holds the moment.

“I have nothing to say. It was the smoothest passage through the Suez Canal I’ve ever experienced.”

Steering a straight course

Madrid Mærsk is the first of the second-generation Triple-E container ships, and will be followed by 10 more joining the fleet this year and next. These vessels bring more efficiency to shipping with the ability to carry more containers, which means lower energy usage and costs.

Poster image
“You have to be humble to the elements and to the size of the vessel. Don’t be afraid of it, but have a huge respect for it,” says Captain Larsen, Captain on Madrid Maersk. 00:43

We spent five days on board during Madrid Mærsk’s maiden voyage, from the Suez Canal to Tangier, just a small part of her journey from China to Northern Europe with containers filled with clothes, toys and fruit.

At nearly 400 metres in length and with a capacity of 20,568 twenty-foot containers (TEUs), the size of the vessel means that through the Suez Canal, there are only a few metres spare on either side – so navigation has to be spot on. GPS cannot help with such small distances, Captain Larsen explains, so the ship is steered manually with advice from pilots.

“You have to be humble to the elements and to the size of the vessel. Don’t be afraid of it, but have a huge respect for it,” says Captain Larsen, a genial man with a wealth of stories from his time at sea, yet who speaks with a clear air of authority and total dedication to the job at hand. “I’m fortunate enough to have a really great crew on board, and without them my life would be significantly more difficult.”

Checking the reefers

After leaving the Suez Canal, the onboard routine resumes through the Mediterranean Sea. For much of this journey, there are surprisingly few other vessels to be seen, but many are steaming along this important trade route, just out of eyesight.

Triple-E
The daily routine of shipboard life – tidying up the decks, minor paint jobs, preparing the paperwork for the next port call, logistics around crew members arriving and departing, checking the temperature and condition of the reefer containers. Photo: Jesper Schwartz

Chief Officer Marcin Kulas makes a round of the ship every morning, to check that everything is in working order – anything from the huge stacks of containers that descend far below the waterline, and almost as high as the bridge, to something as apparently small as a deck door that cannot be held open.

“These are the kind of things that are easy to overlook, but are really important to keep in good working order – because when you need it, you really need it immediately,” Kulas says.

Smudges of land are visible on the horizon – a Greek island here, the hills of Sicily and Andalucía to starboard and the desert mountains of Tunisia and Algeria to port. When a phone signal kicks in, crew members take to the bridge wings to talk to family back home.

The daily routine of shipboard life continues – tidying up the decks, minor paint jobs, preparing the paperwork for the next port call, logistics around crew members arriving and departing, checking the temperature and condition of the reefer containers.

Franklin Galinato, an able seaman from the Philippines, is working on greasing the wires for the lifeboat, just one of the hundreds of routine jobs that contribute to keeping the ship running smoothly. 

“Working here is really different, as it’s such a big ship and the first of its kind,” says Galinato. “For example, this lifeboat is a different type from the other ones. And of course, it’s a big ship, so it’s really demanding. It’s nearly 1 kilometre just to go round the deck, so you can imagine how long it would take you.”

It is 5.30am and dark on the bridge. The lights of Gibraltar are ahead, but the famous rock is not yet visible. Madrid Mærsk is about to call her next port, APM Terminals at Tangier Med in Morocco.

“I love sailing, especially when you have days like this, beautiful weather and you see the sea all around – the sea is one of things you can keep looking at and never get tired of,” says Second Officer Thomas Pedersen. “Out here in the Mediterranean, she handles just like any other ship. The difference comes when bringing something this size into port.”

As the sun rises, Captain Larsen and his Chief Officer arrive on the bridge, soon to be joined by pilots from the port. Tug boats flock to the vessel’s sides and help to nudge her towards the berth.

Soon after, Madrid Mærsk is safely berthed and the light-blue cranes of APM Terminals are already taking off the cargo as the mist drifts around the mountains along the shore.

“Very nice approach, Captain,” says the pilot, as he prepares to disembark.