Rare images of a ‘rock star’ mega-ship

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Gregers Heering captured amazing images of one of the world's biggest ships

The container ship Maersk Majestic is as long as nearly four NFL football fields

CNN  — 

Beware. There may be hazards while taking photos of anything really big.

A large crowd, a skyscraper … LeBron James.

Sometimes it’s hard to fit the whole enchilada into a camera viewfinder.

So imagine the challenge Gregers Heering faced when he found himself photographing one of the biggest ships on the planet, the Maersk Majestic.

For 32 days last year, Heering, along with writer Kirsten Jacobsen, sailed aboard the Danish container ship, traveling from East Asia, across the Indian Ocean, into the Suez Canal and through the Mediterranean Sea.

“The sheer size of the cargo bays and the engine room – you might have thought it was big before – but when you really see it, it’s just insane,” Heering said.

Photographer Gregers Heering

For the unfamiliar, the Majestic and its approximately 20 sister ships are rock stars of the shipping world. These guys are nearly as long as four NFL football fields. They’re taller than a 20-story building. And they’re too wide to pass through the Panama Canal.

How big of a deal are they? So much so that Lego put out a toy model kit of these bad boys.

Stepping aboard for the first time, Heering felt a kind of “sci-fi” vibe. The ship’s massive size and small crew of about 20 people reminded him of cavernous, lonely starships in films such as “Alien” or “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Once at sea, Heering realized he had a logistical problem: How was he going to get off the ship to photograph it while it cut through the water? The Majestic had no small vessels, Heering said – nothing but survival boats, which were only available for emergencies.

When the ship approached a port of call, a harbor pilot agreed to take Heering on board. But getting on the pilot boat was easier said than done.

Maersk Majestic

  • Built: 2013
  • Length: 1,312 feet (400 meters)
  • Width: 193 feet (59 meters)
  • Height: 239 feet (73 meters)
  • Weight: 60,000 tons
  • Capacity: About 18,000 containers
  • Cost: About $185 million
  • Engines: Two
  • Maximum speed: About 26 mph (23 knots)
  • Crew: 19
  • Source: Maersk

    Heering had to lower himself hand-over-hand down a small rope ladder dangling from the Majestic while its hull plowed through the waves.

    “That was a very surreal moment,” Heering said. “I never in my life thought I’d find myself doing that.”

    Heering’s pictures from the smaller vessel illustrate the breathtaking size of this mechanical behemoth. And for the crew of the pilot boat, welcoming the Majestic felt like meeting, well, a rock star.

    They “were really excited to be able to speed around this big ship while I was shooting away, getting all these great angles,” Heering said. They circled the entire ship twice. “I was totally high on adrenaline.”

    Later, one of the Majestic officers told Heering, “This has never happened before, especially not in China.”

    The scariest part of Heering’s journey didn’t take place on the Majestic at all. It happened on top of a terminal crane while the ship was loading and unloading cargo at port.

    A security guard escorted Heering up a small “claustrophobic” elevator. He found himself completely exposed to the wind on a tiny, shaking metal platform. Crossing over a little bridge that leads to the operator crane house, Heering “looked straight down, and there was absolutely nothing but air between me and 14 floors down to the concrete.” His anxiety level shot straight up. It didn’t help when the guard confessed to Heering his lifelong fear of heights.

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    Inside the crane house, Heering found the operator at work lifting hundreds of 20-foot-long cargo containers on and off the ship. Heering’s fear faded as he started taking pictures. One photo – No. 7 in the gallery above – shows the operator’s high-altitude workstation. In front of him sits a small water bottle “in case he needs to take a leak,” Heering explained with a smile in his voice.

    Container ships are often loaded up in the Far East with high-end food items, batteries, electronics and sportswear for Western consumers, Heering said. After they unload at Western ports, the ships take on goods made in the West, such as heavy machinery, and head off to another destination – perpetuating an endless economic cycle that crisscrosses the planet.

    “These ships play a very huge role in our consumer food chain,” he said.

    For Heering, the photos are meant to illustrate that idea in human terms.

    He points to his photo of a Chinese harbor pilot steering the Majestic into port. “Look in his eyes. He’s obviously there to fulfill a job,” Heering said. “But for me – this moment feels like he’s very proud.

    “His life is good.”

    Gregers Heering is a Danish photographer based in California. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Heering and Jacobsen’s book “Majestic - 32 Days Aboard the Biggest Ship in the World” is available here.