CMA CGM Christophe Colomb, in the Elbe estuary.
CMA CGM Christophe Colomb, in the Elbe estuary. - 
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Southern California’s huge port complex has been making headlines lately over congestion and shipping delays. But ports all over the world are experiencing traffic jams, and they all have one thing in common: megaships. Some container vessels are now three and a half football fields long and they’re overwhelming ports. 

Just five years ago, ocean carriers calling on global ports typically could handle 5,000 20-foot containers.

“Now, they are bringing in ships that can handle three times that amount,” says Peter Friedmann, counsel to Pacific Coast Council of Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Associations. “And there are some ships that have already been built that can carry 18,000 on one ship.” Even the expanded Panama Canal won't be able to handle a ship that big.

Noel Hacegaba, chief commercial officer at the Port of Long Beach, says it’s all about economies of scale. “The bigger the ship, the lower the unit cost,” he says.

Hacegaba says these megaships came on line faster than expected. They’re straining capacity at many global ports, where authorities are scrambling to build bigger terminals and bigger cranes to unload them. 

Companies like Maersk and MSC are forming alliances to share these vessels, a move that gives shippers more leverage over the world’s ports. 

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Follow Sarah Gardner at @RadioGardner