Source: Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd.
Maritime shipping is highly sensitive (elastic) to bunker fuel costs, representing between 45 and 50% of operating costs with limited opportunities to mitigate outside slow steaming. Still, from a comparative perspective, maritime shipping has less fuel price sensitivity than trucking and rail, implying that higher energy prices are likely to trigger the consideration of routing options that have a port call the closest possible to the destination of the shipments.
A standard Panamax containership has operational costs of about $9 million per year. The most significant expenses are related to fuel (46%) and port charges (21%), which are variable costs. This is transcribed in annual operating costs of about $2,314 per TEU. Not shown here are the significant amortization costs related to the ship purchase (principal and interest). The incentive to use larger containerships is quite clear from the perspective of maritime shippers, which led to a new generation of 10,000 TEU containerships being introduced in 2007. In this case, fuel and port charges account respectively for 50% and 21% of their annual operating costs, while manning costs remain constant. However, annual operating costs per TEU drop by more than one-half to $1,449. The principle of economies of scale is thus a strong factor in containerized maritime shipping.