Last Updated on July 30, 2020 by Amit Abhishek
Everyday a bulk of cargo arrives at different ports in containers from around the world carried on a ship. These locked containers are then loaded or unloaded from these ships directly to the trucks or rails. These containers can be carried across various modes of transportation, which is know as intermodal transport ; and the ships carrying them is called container ship.
A container ship is a non-bulk cargo ship designed to carry dry cargo in the form of shipping containers. In fact, 99% of all non-bulk cargo is transported using these shipping containers; of which 90% alone is transported using a container ship. This process of transporting cargo in Intermodal freight containers is called containerization.
These large ships carry cargo from one port to another following a fixed route and schedule. Such ability to transport small amount of cargo efficiently on time makes it significant in global trade. In fact container ships accounts for the bulk of global trade carrying ready made consumer goods worldwide.
Following standardized shipping containers its easy to load and unload large bulk of cargo to and from the ship. In fact the total capacity of these ships are measured in TEU; based on volume of these standardized containers. This make it possible to transfer large quantity of goods in record time; efficiently using larger and larger ships.
How Does Container Shipping Works – A Brief Introduction
Container shipping is a complex trade business involving insurance company, exporter, importer, freight forwarder; ship broker, charterer, port authorities, custom and shipping company. So to makes it simple to understand we will discuss thing in simple therms skipping many minor players and their roles.
For example say you need to ship 50 iPad from china to Canada. Now the first thing you will do is to check for freight forwarder; a company which takes your products from industry and store it in the charterer warehouse. The charterer then hire a definite space on container ship using ship brokerage company.
Now your products along with others will be filled in containers and shipped to ports for loading using trucks and rails. The containers are then loaded onto the ship and is on its journey to Canada. Based on the route and speed of the ship it will arrive to Canadian port in next 14 to 18 days.
The containers are then unloaded and shipped to warehouse hired by the charterer in Canada using trucks and rails. All legal formalities such as customs and checks are done in between. It is from there your iPad are finally dispatched to your address. The only role of container ship in the process is to carry shipping containers from place A to B.
History Of Container Ship & Its Effect On The Global Shipping
Just ask anyone you know who had worked on merchant ships back in 50’s and 60’s. They will all tell there was hardly dedicated container ships around at that time; other than a few for experimental purposes. The first ship to carry bulk of its cargo in form of container was SS Ideal X back in 1955.
It was originally an oil tanker build during second world war which was then modified to accommodate shipping containers. This was the plan of the visionary “Malcom McLean” which changed the course of global shipping. But modern container shipping has evolved from just using containers; into better using them efficiently for specific purpose.
The reason why container ship become quite popular over the years than general cargo ships of the time; is that it reduced the number of man power and time required on ship to handle cargo. Thus this add up to more profit to the charterer and the shipping company which pass on as competitive fright rate for consumers.
The first container ship SS Ideal X was capable of carrying 800 TEU Capacity. Overtime with development in technology, introduction of cranes, dedicated terminals and larger ships; we can handle as much as 15,000-21,000 TEU capacity at even competitive price tag.
Types of Container Ship
Container ships can be classified based on two of its criteria; its size and time of build or its generation. Based on its size a container ship is of 6 main types namely; Early Container ships, Panamax, Suezmax, New Panamax, VLCS and ULCS. Similarly based on its generation it is of six major generation; from generation 1 ( Oldest ) to 6 ( Till Date ).
A ) Types of Container Ship Based On Generation
- First Generation Ships: These are the ships which first started carrying cargo in bulk using shipping containers. Developed in 1955 they were nothing much than a modified tanker or a bulk carrier to hold containers on it.
- Second Generation Ships: Starting from early 1958s they were the first to be said dedicated container ships. Unlike their predecessor they were designed and developed for just one purpose i.e container cargo only.
- Third Generation Ships: Between early 60’s and 70’s container ships with container cranes starts to came into picture. These were not just powerful but become handy loading cargo in record time.
- Fourth Generation Ships: Since the standardization of shipping containers in 1968 all ships builder after that were designed to hold and store containers of this standard size only.
- Fifth Generation Ships: With technological advancement, bigger ports, high speed dedicated cargo cranes installed on ports; the 80’s really allow the ships to go bigger and bigger. To further increase the cargo capacity and rate of cargo operation dedicated cargo holds were created and deck cranes were reduced.
- Six Generation Ships: Starting from 2000’s these ships are equipped with dedicated container lashing, foldable or smart containers and remote tracking. By this time almost all deck cargo cranes are removed and ships can dock at dedicated container ports.
B ) Types of Container Ship Based On Size
- Early Container ships: The earlier container ships used in the 60’s and 70’s were of small size and often equipped with large cranes. Ranging between 140 to 200 meters it can hold up to 2000 TEU capacity. They were slow, less efficient and had less space for storing containers.
- Panamax: These are the ships build first during the early 80’s in response to the growing demand and trade world wide. This was among the first ship at the time with 294m length. With capacity of 4 to 5 thousand TEU this can sail trough the panama canal.
- Suezmax: Just like the relation of panama canal to the Panamax, the Suezmax was developed in response to the Suez Canal. With capacity of 12,000 TEU it can be as long as 270 meters and a maximum draft of 20 meters. Although at first Suezmax ships were all tankers; soon container ships too follow.
- New Panamax: These are the new introduction to the Panamax category as target the increased depth and width of the new panama canal in 2016. These ships can sale through the new panama canal with a capacity of 12,500 TEU. This mean it can hold ships as long as 300 meters and 50 meters wide.
- Very Large Container Ship ( VLCS ): BY 2006 of all the six generation container ship a large part of it was very large container ships. They are so large that they don’t even fit in the expended new panama canal. With capacity of 14,000 TEU they run on the most busy shipping routes in the world.
- Ultra Large Container Ship ( ULCS ): The largest ever container ship ever built with a capacity of 18000 to 21000 TEU. This is among the largest size even the expended Suez canal can accommodate.
How Many Containers Can A Ship Can Carry?
The total capacity or weight of cargo on a container ship is measured not in kilos or by number of actual containers. The capacity of ship is measured in TEU; twenty foot equivalent unit. Which mean if we can load only 10 standard intermodal containers of each 1×20 foot size to the ship; its cargo capacity will be 10 TEU.
A 1 TEU container store approximately 21,000 kilograms worth of goods inside. But there are also bigger containers used which holds up to 34,000 kilo’s. The largest container ship till date is the OOCL Hong Kong having an record of holding 21,413 TEU capacity. So a ship can carry 21,413 containers in total for 1×20 foot size each.
While the most used container size is the 1x20ft there are also other smaller and larger cargo container used worldwide. This leads to varying number of actual containers on largest ship by +/- 250 containers. So a ship can carry from 1 container to as many as 21,663 containers with total capacity of 21, 413 TEU.
Major Shipping Companies Operating Container Ship
With container ships dominating non bulk cargo transportation there are many small and large shipping company in this trade. But If it wasn’t to be the top 10 container shipping companies; a large part of it may not be efficiently transported. A large part of the cargo moves from one part of the world to another unnoticed yet safe; thanks to these large shipping companies.
I have write in details about the Top 10 Container shipping company on one of my old post. There i have mentioned how a few small companies emerge out to be the major player and then dominate the industry. What are their resources, number of ships, last known annual revenue and recent developments.
The top five of them are namely; Maersk Line, Mediterranean Shipping Company, CMA-CGM, COSCO and the German-based Hapag-Lloyd. Together they account for more than 60% of the total market share of the the BIG TEN. Similarly the top ten container shipping company accounts for around 80% of total market.
In the shipping world, a company is not known for the number of ships it holds or money it makes last financial year; but the twenty-foot equivalent units ( T.E.U ) it transported in the last fiscal year.
How Fast Does They Go & How long It Takes To Reach Them From China To U.S
Every time i tell somebody that i work on ship the common question they ask is how fast does the ship go and how long does it takes to reach one of these to reach from china to u.s? A container ship is designed to run at a maximum speed of 24 knots; but it runs in between 16 to 22 knots in open sea under normal conditions.
Ships are generally run at slower speed rather than going fast as it saves fuel and thus a considerable amount of money for the ship owner and company. While there is no fixed number of days as it depends on the route, speed of the ship, weather condition and marine traffic near ports.
After all the us has a coast line of about 12,000 miles while china has of 9,000 miles with major and minor ports distributed across their coastline. So to give you a clear picture we have to consider the average speed of the ship in between 12 to 14 knots; to accommodate any delay, effects of bad weather and marine traffic near ports and canals.
So in clear terms, it can takes in between 14 to 40 days for a ship to reach from china to usa. ON west coast it takes around 14 to 20 days to reach but for the east coast it exceeds up to 40. The shortest route is between Los-Angeles and Guangzhou which takes anything between 13/14 to 16 days.
Types of Containerization Used On Ship
Not all containers shipped on containers ship are the same. While the most common distinction to differentiate one container from the two is its capacity; for example 10,20,40,45 TEU capacity containers. It is not always the case especially when there are containers design to meet specific purposes.
The standardization of shipping containers both based on its size and cargo helps; the smooth movement of cargo from factories to warehouse and then to the market. At present there are more than 15 different types of containers used to meet specific cargo requirement; of them we will discuss the 8 most used container types.
1 ) Dry Cargo Storage Containers
The most standard shipping container used to transport dry cargo packed in these 20 and 40 TEU containers. These are the one first standardized by the ISO. Being completely airtight these containers are fully sealed from any outside influence till its open on the other side of international trade.
Came in three different size, 10,20 and 40 TEU capacity they are the ones we mostly see on roads, on ship and near ports. These metal containers are the most basic of all container types; with no facilities such as ventilation, temperature control, humidity control and be able to open from all sides.
2 ) Open Top Containers
Another dry cargo container much alike the standard container unit with one single difference; they can be accessed both from front and top of the container. The top on them can be completely removed or converted based on specific need; thus allowing easy access to lift or remove the stored appliances or machinery.
Used mainly to store heavy duty machines it can also be used to accommodate industrial goods; over weight cargo and over height cargo. This is the only container which can accommodate cargo which does not have a fixed height. Thus it fit well for those who does not be fitted well into standard containers.
3 ) Flat Rack Containers
In case you need to accommodate heavy cargoes, heavy machinery, industrial tools, large accessories and over sized cargo; you need to use one such flat rack container for the purpose. Developed first to load construction materials they are now used to load all heavy goods; both oversized and weight for standard containers.
It has a firm metal plate at the bottom strengthen to take heavy loads, collapsible sides and no top cover. This makes it idle for loading and unloading of cargo from containers. As these heavy cargo often need cranes to lift, having an open top assist in the process. But on the downturn; it also make them prone damage from weather and thus need special attention.
4 ) Ventilated Cargo Containers
Food crop such as Cocoa beans and other organic products needs fresh air ventilation; to stay fresh under constant temperature condition. The containers have small openings on the top and bottom of the sides allowing passage of air; but on the same time prevents water from rain to easily get in.
These 20 feet containers are thus unique in a way as they avoid temperature rise; or surge in humidity by allowing hot air to expel out and cool fresh air to come replacing it. This process avoid condensation and thus avoid any damage to organic products. Since these containers are mostly used for carrying coffee beans; they are also termed as coffee containers.
5 ) Tunnels And Open Side Containers
Many a times it is not just important that a cargo can be loaded in particular container but also; how efficiently we be able to load and unload cargo from it. So to allow better accessibility and wider operating area tunnels and open side containers were developed. Once sealed they might look much alike standard containers; it is its accessibility that sets it apart.
In tunnel containers the cargo within can be accessed from both end of the container. Similarly open sides containers have large doors which opens on one side. Features such as these allow for seamless and fast stuffing in and out of the goods inside one of these containers; saving time and money.
6 ) Double Door Containers
If you are among the ones who wonders why containers have access on both its sides; double door container is just for you. Made to stuff any kind of material into 20 foot equivalent unit in record time; it allows you to handle cargo from both sides. having two doors helps load and unload large complex cargo such as construction materials.
Having such containers with double doors that can be locked and merged with other containers; help provide flexibility and durability to the operation. Moreover having the same locking assembly for both its doors helps protect it against weather conditions.
7 ) Car Carrier Containers
Anyone who has little knowledge of shipping knows cars and other transportation vehicles in bulk; are mostly transported using car carrier ( ship ). But on land and when transported overseas in very low numbers these are transported using a special container designed to carry cars and vehicle in general.
Much like how cars and other vehicles are loaded on car carriers the containers are equipped to handle and load vehicles within. Available in 20 and 40 TEU capacity you can find them mostly used on roads and rail transport.
8 ) Refrigerated Cargo Containers
Used to carry live cargo such as fruits, vegetables and meat they are mostly used when you need controlled temperature. Equipped with in house refrigeration system; they are handy and easy to operate. Against most common belief it can not regulate below zero temperature; but certainly can maintain a temperature in between -25 to 25 degree centigrade.
Because of its use in fish, meat, fruits and vegetables transport; they are the second most popular container types after the standard ISO dry cargo containers. Other than that they are also used for transporting medical supplies for essential drugs needing fixed temperature requirements.
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