What’s a Suezmax?

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Suezmax is the largest ship that can pass through the Suez Canal, mainly used for oil tankers carrying up to 240,000 DWT. Changes in the canal’s depth have affected the specifications. If a ship exceeds the parameters, it can avoid the canal or undergo transshipment. Other ships include VLCCs and Aframax.

A Suezmax is the largest type of ship that can pass through the Suez Canal. The word “suezmax” is a common term used in naval architecture to refer to how far below the waterline the ship can go. While navigating the canal, a ship has a limited depth due to height and water level restrictions because it must pass under the Suez Canal Bridge. Typically, a vessel that can handle a depth of approximately 66 feet (20.1 meters) and a height of 223.1 feet (68 meters) is below or exactly in the Suezmax specifications.

Ships in the Suezmax category are mainly oil tankers. These vessels typically carry crude oil and chemicals. They can typically traverse the channel with up to 240,000 deadweight tons (DWT). To meet the channel’s specifications, the ship must be well below that weight, as the number includes the weight of the cargo, ship, crew, and any other equipment.

Changes in the depth of the channel over the years have changed the specifications of Suezmax ships. For example, in 2009, a major change increased the depth from 60 to 66 feet (18 to 20 meters). These changes are tracked in charts created by the Suez Canal Authority, which architects and shipbuilders can use as a resource when designing and building new ships.

If the height, width or weight of a ship exceeds the Suezmax parameters, there are several ways to handle the problem. Some ships will avoid the canal and navigate the southern tip of Africa. Others will unload cargo and transport it by other means through the canal.

The process of removing cargo to other forms of transportation is known as transshipment. Typically, the additional cargo is temporarily transferred to other vessels and then returned to the main ship after transportation through the canal. Some cargo may also move through pipelines, commonly known as pipeline terminals.

Other common types of ships that travel through the Suez Canal include Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) and the Aframax. VLCCs are supertankers and tend to require transhipment as they are usually too laden to travel through the channel. Aframax ships travel well through the canal because they are smaller than Suezmax and VLCC ships. To increase transportation efficiency, VLCCs have become less common for canal transportation while the other two models have grown in popularity.

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