What Is a Chinamax?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2019
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A Chinamax is a very large ship capable of carrying large volumes of bulk materials like coal and iron ore. The Chinamax standard defines a ship by its maximum measurements, allowing harbors to determine whether they can accommodate ships in this class. As the name implies, these ships are used to move goods to and from China along several trade routes, such as the iron ore route from Brazil to China. The larger the ship, the cheaper it is to transport goods, making ships in this class a cost-effective solution for meeting large orders.

To be classified as a Chinamax, the ship cannot have a draft in excess of 79 feet (24 meters). It is no longer than 1,180 feet (360 meters), and the width doesn't exceed 213 feet (65 meters). These ships are known as very large ore carriers (VLOCs), after the loads they are designed to carry, primarily iron and coal ores. Seven large compartments fit into a Chinamax ship, with wide loading doors to facilitate easy loading and unloading. The width also limits the number of spots within the hold where loading devices cannot reach, eliminating dead space.


As of 2011, the Chinamax class is the largest class for VLOCs. Producers of ships in smaller size ranges have expressed concern, arguing that the large size will put smaller ships like Capemax designs out of business. For companies placing orders for shipping, using small ships does not make sense, since it costs more and usually has higher environmental costs as well. China has a substantial need for iron ore to meet growing iron and steel production, and thus can easily consume loads of ore carried in ships of this class.

Using ship measurement standards is important not just for harbors, but also for shipping companies. As shippers prepare to place loads of material, they must look at available ships to use and determine the most cost effective solution for a given shipment. Having information about the size is critical, as it determines whether a ship will meet the need. Publications that monitor shipping can also use information about ship movements to make estimates about the volume of shipping in a given time period. Other examples of size standards include Panamax, Suezmax, and Aframax. All these names reference the regions where these ships are most commonly used; a Suezmax ship, for example, is small enough to safely move within the Suez Canal.


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