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TOWING THE WORLD'S LARGEST SHIP

Weather conditions could have been better when four SVITZER tugs towed the world’s largest containership backwards out of the Port of Copenhagen – a port hardly suited for a 399 metres vessel. As history was about to be written, all eyes were fixed on SVITZER.

On the morning of 30 September, an impressive crowd of thousands of spectators, including the customer, Maersk Line, and the world press were watching closely while SVITZER escorted newly christened Majestic Maersk back to sea.

A FOUR-TUG OPERATION 

For an operation of this scale SVITZER MARS and SVITZER NJAL teamed up with two additional tugs, SVITZER TYR and SVITZER HYMER, from their operating harbour in Sweden. It would soon turn out to be a good decision for a job requiring a bit more than usual. SVITZER Captain, Morten Heine participated in the operation from aboard SVITZER MARS. Even for a vastly experienced captain, cooperating with three other tugs to tow a gigantic vessel backwards through a narrow port was far from an everyday job. The Copenhagen Port does not provide sufficient depth either for a fully loaded vessel, which made preparatory work crucial. “Port regulations dictated that the entire cargo of the 18,000 TEU containers couldn’t go with it into port,” Morten recalls. “Fortunately, they had unloaded the ship quite a lot. Striking ground was simply not an option,” Morten emphasises.

FULL SPEED - FULL ATTENTION

As his crew of three had connected SVITZER MARS to Majestic Maersk from the starboard side, undivided attention was given to towing the vessel from its berth. Just like in any other operation unforeseen events could occur, so Morten listened carefully to the radio dialogue between the Pilot and the Captains during the course of events. “Going full speed requires full attention and good collaboration.”

STRONG WINDS ARE ALWAYS A HUGE RISK

Strong breezes kept sweeping onto the side of Majestic Maersk, challenging all four tugs. “The gusts of wind were much stronger than forecasted, so we had to use all the power to keep the vessel steady through the harbour entrance, which barely provided adequate space. Once a vessel of this size and weight starts drifting, you have a critical situation,” Morten explains. Towing in two different directions, the SVITZER crews managed to keep the blazing winds from getting a hold of the vessel’s towery 73 metres and steered it elegantly through the port entrance.

Soon after, Majestic Maersk could rely on her own engine power to reach the next stop on her maiden voyage: the Port of Gothenburg, Sweden. When the last tug disconnected, the crews heaved a sigh of relief and congratulated each other on a job well done. After all, the eyes of many people had been fixed on this giant leaving the Port of Copenhagen.

DELICATE PRECISION WORK OF THE PILOT

“In big operations like this one, the Pilot plays a key part in making the operation a success. A safe operation doesn’t mean that you blindly keep towing in one direction because you are told to. We have to be each other’s eyes and ears because the operation can look quite different from the tower. From up there, the tugs look mostly like small dots accompanying the vessel. The Pilot could far from see everything, and still he managed to do impressive precision work,” Morten concludes.

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WHY MAJESTIC MAERSK IS RECORD-BREAKING GIANT

Compared to other E-class vessels,
Majestic Maersk is a record-breaker.
She covers:
· 399 metres in length
· 59 metres in width
· a total deadweight tonnage of 165,000
metric tonnes
· 18,000 TEU containers when fully loaded,
which is 2,500 containers more than
previous E-class vessels

She is too big to enter any port of North
or South America or to sail through the
Panama Canal.