On board the world's biggest ship
Видяна: 10521 Етикети: MSC Cruises, MSC Divina, MSC Magnifica
The latest ship to take the title of "world's biggest cargo carrier" has docked in the UK. What's it like on board?
"It doesn't look so different when you look out from the front of the bridge," says captain Giuseppe Silviero. "But when you look out the back, you realise it's about 200m longer than some of the other ships."
As a chilly wind blows from the North Sea, the Oscar pulls slowly into port. Tugs, one spraying jets of water into the air in traditional maritime celebration, heave it sideways into berths eight and nine at Felixstowe.
Able to hold 19,224 standard 20ft-long containers, the Oscar is the world's biggest carrier ship, in terms of volume. Built by Daewoo in South Korea at a cost of $140m (£93m) and named after the eight-year-old son of Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) president and chief executive Diego Aponte, she is 395.4m (1,297ft) long - a few metres greater than the height of New York's Empire State building, if the antenna on top is not taken into account.
Measuring 73m (240ft) high and 59m (194ft) wide, the Oscar's silhouette is visible from miles away, even on a misty East Anglian morning.
But Silviero, an Italian who has captained merchant ships for 23 years, is unfazed by being in charge of it. "I've been doing this job throughout what you might call the era of the mega-ships," he says. "I've captained ships that take 11,000, 12,000 and 14,000 containers." A ship of whatever size is still a ship, he reasons.
The Oscar has a different effect on the several hundred enthusiasts gathered near Felixstowe port's entrance to cheer and photograph its arrival, following its maiden voyage from Qingdao in China.
The shipping industry has undergone what some call an "arms race" in the last couple of decades. The Oscar's predecessor as the biggest vessel was the 19,100-container-capacity, Chinese-owned Globe,which held the title for 53 days and visited Felixstowe in January. Thirty years ago, no ship was capable of carrying more than 5,000 containers.
It takes the crew and port staff about half an hour to tether the Oscar, which must be manoeuvred slowly into its berth in case it crashes into the side, its gross tonnage of 193,000 capable of huge damage.
Even the biggest are dealt with within 36 hours, the movements of every container, lorry and train planned with maximum accuracy. Once the Oscar is in situ, a line of six cranes gets into action within 20 minutes.
Felixstowe, along with other major European and Asian ports, has been upgraded in recent years to deal with the volume of cargo the mega-ships bring. US ports have not done the same, meaning the Oscar cannot dock there, while the Panama Canal would have to be widened to allow her through.
Each crane at Felixstowe removes containers, putting them onto waiting shuttle vehicles at a rate of more than one every two minutes. If the traditional image of a busy port is of hustle and bustle, Felixstowe is notably human-free, the dockside largely empty as the cranes do their work. A few workers in yellow hats and high-visibility jackets look tiny next to the Oscar, the letters MSC painted in white letters more than 20m high on its black and red hull.
The crane mechanisms whirr as their yellow "spreaders" carry the containers at speed from the top of the piles onboard downwards. There is a bang as they clamp on and another as they deposit them.
The steps used by the crew to climb on board the Oscar seem comparatively rickety, but with a safety net below.
Further up, in the bridge, Captain Silviero monitors banks of instruments. On one side the town of Felixstowe is visible, its spires juxtaposed behind thousands of containers, mainly red, grey and blue, stacked in the near distance. On the other can be seen the port of Harwich.