Many ports face a large and growing problem

The age of the megaship also poses challenges for port operators.

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The age of the megaship also poses challenges for port operators.

No port in North or South America is currently able to take the vessels, nor the new Panama canal locks - designed for the last generation of container ships - which are due to open next year.

The ships will just about squeeze through the Suez canal and will ply only the Asia to Europe route, via ports such as Jebel Ali and Khalifa Port in the UAE, which can handle them comfortably.

However, only a handful of European ports, including Felixstowe and Southampton in the United Kingdom, are equipped to handle the behemoths.

In the UK, Dubai's DP World is building a £1.5 billion (Dh8.34bn) port 32km east of London. London Gateway has just installed the first of 24 138-metre- high cranes designed specifically to reach up and across the megaships' vast deck of containers.

Andrew Bowen, the project's director of engineering, says the port will be able to handle seven megaships at a time.

"There is very limited capacity for the biggest new ships at Felixstowe and Southampton and it's very important that we as a country have the capacity to handle the largest vessels travelling the world," he says.

"If we don't have the capacity to handle them, it would like if we didn't have an airport to handle the A380 superjumbo and you'd have to go to the continent to change planes.

"It would be the same for containers."

* David Black