Container Ships: Revolutionizing Global Trade and Distribution

Container Ships: Even small producers and company owners can benefit from economies of scale and distribute their goods to customers worldwide using container shipping.

Few people have a thorough understanding of the process, including operational costs, supply chain, port congestion, container shortage, fuel expenses, and fuel consumption, even though many people have a general understanding of what a container ship is and how it operates.

We shall go into great detail about container ships in this essay, covering their history and definition. We’ll start by going over their many titles and key characteristics. The kind of cargo container that each of them is carrying will then be highlighted. Lastly, we provide a summary of the port-to-port shipping procedure.

Container Ships: What Are They?

A vessel designed to carry large amounts of cargo packed into various containers is referred to as a container vessel, as the name implies (ship). Containerization is the process of shipping goods in designated containers.

Container ships are among the most effective means of transporting commodities. These ships have effectively altered international trade by making it possible to move large amounts of cargo at once.

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Most seagoing non-bulk commodities are transported by container ships. Approximately 90% of all non-bulk cargo in the world today is transported on container vessels. Container vessels are one of the primary means of transporting ready commodities throughout the world. Because of their uniform size, these containers are easily adaptable to a variety of transportation methods. A containership is capable of carrying anything.

Container vessels have been getting bigger all the time due to factors like rising market demand, expanding cargo carrying capacity, improving operational efficiency, and improved environmental procedures and liner service operations.

Comparing 1968 to the present, the capacity of container ships to carry containers has grown by over 1200%. Over time, they have improved in terms of technology and fuel efficiency.

Container Ship History

One of the most notable advancements in the maritime freight sector is the introduction of container shipping. Because they guarantee the safety and security of the cargo supplies being transported, container ships—a type of cargo ship—have completely changed the way cargo supplies are ferried and transported throughout the world. Some of the largest shipping companies in the world today primarily handle containerized freight.

When container ships were initially introduced in the early 1950s, their primary purpose was to transport freight cars from goods trains. These freight vehicles may be loaded and unloaded from the ship using ramp and crane systems.

As technology has developed throughout time, comparatively far more practical approaches have been viable. Nonetheless, the loading and unloading of containers into and out of the holds of the ships still heavily relies on crane systems. The containers are kept in their proper locations employing specialized cargo handling and lashing devices.

Container ships are similar in that they are built to carry enormous amounts of cargo. Twenty-foot Equivalent Units, or TEUs, are used to quantify the load-bearing capacitance of container ships. The largest container ships are capable of carrying up to 15,000–16,000 TEUs.

Container Ships Types

Throughout multiple container ships, the 800 TEU to 15,000 TEU capacity increase resulted in the development of several container ship sizes and types.


tiny cargo ships known as feeders are frequently seen in interior or tiny ports. These modern vessels can accommodate up to 2,000 TEUs and have a length of about 492 feet.

They can navigate through shallow waters that larger container ships cannot because of their small ship size. They “feed” the bigger vessels as a result.

In contrast to larger container ships, feeder ships typically carry loading gear. On their decks, freight cranes might be visible. This is because the smaller ports they service frequently lack the room for the larger lifting apparatus required to transfer containers.


Feedermax ships are slightly larger than feeder ships, but they operate in the same manner. Their capacity is 3,000 TEU. Larger inland ports, like the Baltic Sea, are where you can find them. They might also be transporting unusually big cargo that cannot be shipped with regular containers and dangerous raw materials.

The Panamamax

The Panamax has a capacity of 4,000–5,000 TEU and is 965 feet long. Typically, it has a 39.5-foot draft and a 106-foot beam. These boats were first constructed in the 1980s to pass through the original Panama Canal.

The time it takes for international transportation may be greatly decreased by ships that could pass through the canal. However, before 2016, the size of container ships was severely restricted due to the narrow size of the old Panama Canal.

Post – Panamax

The shipping industry dubbed ships that didn’t fit through the initial Panama Canal locks “post-Panamax.”

When the Panamax was developed in the 1980s, many larger ships were unable to pass through the canal. Anything longer than 984 feet was too big to fit through the original conduit. The term “Post-Panamax” was given to these ships.

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Post-Panamax ships at the time tended to be those with a capacity of more than 5,000 TEU. Because of the widening of the Panama Canal, only the largest ships are now Post-Panamax ships.

This means that goods must take a lot longer to ship because these ships must sail around Cape Horn, the southernmost point of South America, and avoid the canal completely. At the moment, these are the biggest container ships in service.

New Panamax

2016 saw an extension of the Panama Canal. Thus, the term Neopanamax, or New Panamax, was created. Any ship that can pass through the new Panama Canal’s breadth and depth is given this designation.

Ships longer than 1,300 feet and wider than 157 feet can pass via the new waterway. These vessels are capable of carrying up to 12,500 TEU. More cargo can flow via the canal thanks to their expanded capacity, saving time compared to the lengthy route around Cape Horn.

Extra-Large Vessel Container

The Ultra Large Container Vessel (ULCV) classification refers to the biggest container ships, or ultra-large container boats. These extremely large container ships can have a length of over 1312 feet and a width of up to 193.5 feet, and they can carry 14,000 TEUs or more.

The bigger ships can easily navigate the larger Suez Canal, but this size is too enormous for the Panama Canal. These bigger vessels travel between ports in Northern Europe and Shanghai, the busiest cargo port in the world.

Design of Container Ships

Design of Container Ships
(Credit: SCF Containers)

steering vessel

Container ship sizes vary, but they often have the same key elements, including a bridge, cranes, cargo holds, and container security systems.


The container ship’s bridge serves as its command center. It houses the ship’s navigational instruments and manages the propulsion system. The captain and crew manage the ship’s direction and speed from the bridge. They also keep an eye on the sea and weather.

Additionally, the bridge is where communication between the inside and outside takes place. The skipper can address their crew and other neighboring ships through the communication equipment on the bridge.


The majority of container ships rely on cargo cranes that are situated in the port, while though smaller ships like feeders might have cranes mounted on their decks. Each port crane has a cargo-carrying capacity that matches the size of the ships they serve, meaning there are Panamax cranes, Post-Panamax cranes, and so on.

The largest cranes are incredible engineering feats. They can lift 100 tons and are as tall as Big Ben’s clock tower. That is comparable to the Space Shuttle Endeavor or a small blue whale.

Holds For Cargo

Containers are stored in covered areas called cargo holds, which are located below the deck. Each can bear a significant weight of up to 200,000 tons. Also, each one is capable of fulfilling particular needs. For instance, there will be plenty of power available in a cargo hold designed to accommodate refrigerated containers.

During the loading operation, containers are guided into position by cell guides located within each cargo hold. These metal guides aid in maintaining neat, orderly rows of containers.

On top of the holds are hatch covers. Water and other factors cannot affect the cargo because of hatch coverings. Moreover, the covers safeguard cargo, particularly that which is transported in flat rack or open-top containers.

Security Of Container

Containers need to remain in situ for container boats to be functional. Although it’s difficult, it is possible to prevent container towers from toppling in a variety of weather and sea situations with the appropriate container security.

One type of security for containers is lashing systems. To secure the containers to the ship, lashing systems use wire ropes, stiff rods, chains, and tension devices. The inclusion of a twist-lock system links the container stacks, further securing the cargo.

A series of towers, sometimes known as buttresses, are positioned at either end of each cargo hold on some of the biggest container ships. For the benefit of the ship owners, deck workers secure each container tier together as they load the vessel by adding a detachable stacking form to the towers.

Types Of Containers

cargo vessels

ISO containers, which are standardized in size and shape but can differ greatly in terms of features, are transported on container ships.

Dry Storage Container

Twenty forty-foot dry storage containers, used for the transportation of dry goods of various kinds, make up about 90% of ISO containers. These most likely come to mind when you think about storage containers.

These simple steel containers have no ventilation or temperature control, yet they are hermetically sealed. Shippers can secure various items utilizing tie-down points located along the container’s top and bottom railings.

Container for Flat Racks

Although they lack sides or occasionally have collapsible sides, flat rack containers resemble standard dry storage containers in appearance. This enables them to carry heavier or more asymmetrical loads, such as machinery or cars.

Flat racks occasionally lack sidewalls, back walls, and front walls. Rather, all that is present are the corner posts of the container. Shipping companies can therefore still stack them and handle unusual loads.

Top Open Container

Open-top containers are exactly what they sound like; they’re containers without a top. The top does exist in certain instances, but it is convertible. The roof is retractable, much like the top of a convertible car. Because of this feature, tall material, such as logs or manufacturing equipment, can be transported in open-top containers.

Cold-stored container

Refrigerated containers or reefers enable temperature control, crucial to some bulk cargo categories. These containers can keep their temperature between -18 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit as long as they are powered on.

Shipping containers such as these are necessary for perishable goods such as fruits and vegetables that travel over turbulent waters. Refrigerated containers are also necessary for certain drugs and medications.

Open Side Container

Side doors on side-open containers can be moved to open the container’s full side. Workers can load the side container with unusually long or wide cargo by fully pulling back the sides, much like they can with stage curtains.

When shipping material that has to be ventilated, side open containers are also the best option. These containers work best for some products and certain plants.

Tank Containers

Within a protective frame, steel tanks filled with bulk liquid are stored in tank containers. Because of its ISO standard size, the frame can be placed on top of or beneath other shipping containers.

It is common for the tank to have a non-corrosive protective barrier that lets the liquid inside be either hazardous or non-hazardous. These tanks can hold liquid as well as chemicals, liquefied gases, and some foods.

Half-Height Shelves

Half-height containers are exactly what their name implies: they are half as tall as regular containers. They are hermetically sealed and constructed of steel, just like dry storage containers. Inside, they may feature many tie-down points, which help hold things in place during transit.

They are perfect for hauling bulky or heavy goods like coal, stones, and gravel because of their tiny size. They usually have tools and pipes with them as well.

How A Container Ship Transports Its Cargo

How A Container Ship Transports Its Cargo
(Credit: globalialogisticsnetwork)

Pre-departure paperwork is the first step in the cargo shipping process for container ships, which concludes with the unloading of shipping containers at port facilities all around the world.

Before departure: When you place an order for products from an overseas manufacturer, cargo ships are first used to transport those goods. The manufacturer then typically arranges for a freight forwarding company to handle the delivery of the goods from their factory to your residence or place of business.

To move cargo from one place to another, freight forwarders operate as middlemen, coordinating with truck, rail, sea, and aviation companies. When attempting to send products overseas, they come in quite handy because you will almost certainly need to interact with multiple shipping utilities, and they aid with providing the documents required for each.

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You will require a freight bill and a bill of lading (BoL) when transporting using shipping containers. In essence, the BoL is a shipping agreement. It describes the cargo’s origin and destination. It also includes a description, price list, and quantity of the goods. Lastly, the ownership or title of the good is recorded in the BoL.

A shipping invoice is what a freight bill is. It includes information regarding accessory charges and a summary of the agreed-upon expenses. It also includes a list of all the services offered and the costs related to shipping the cargo.


The items typically travel by truck to the closest port once the freight forwarding operator has planned the route of travel and all parties have taken care of the required paperwork. The manufacturer will receive a truck from the freight forwarding business. They will then fill an ISO container with the merchandise. The container will then be driven to the closest port after that.

Cranes are used by port personnel to lift containers onto ships. Based on its unique requirements, every container has a designated bay, row position, and tier or level. For instance, a cargo hold that has easy access to a power source will house a refrigerated container.

This is the time when the freight forwarder will give the shipping company all the manifest information that is required, such as the contents of the container, its owner, and its final destination. The authorities of the origin and destination ports must get this information from the shipping business.


The cargo ship is prepared for sailing once it is loaded. Hopefully, the weather and sea state will allow the ship to arrive at its destination safely and on schedule. Before the ship departs port, making sure the containers are securely lashed and fastened can assist guarantee that the consignment arrives at its destination completely and undamaged.

The ship’s captain or the shipping company’s global documentation center will make sure the local authorities at the destination port have all the information they require to permit the ship to enter, including details about the ship, its crew, and the cargo it is carrying, before the ship arrives.


When the ship reaches its destination, local officials will clear it to enter the port. The ship will dock there in front of the suitable port cranes, which dock employees will use to unload the cargo. During unloading, there may be up to 100 dock personnel for every vessel. These laborers could focus on crane operations, lashing systems, or other aspects of cargo equipment operation.

Following the containers’ removal from the ship, customs must review the ship’s records. They might then choose a few containers for additional examination. They will clear the shipment after checking the containers to make sure they match the paperwork on board the ship.

Usually, the container is placed on another vehicle once the products have cleared customs. The vehicle, referred to as a drayage truck, will transport it to a distribution hub. Workers at the distribution center unlatch containers and separate the shipment packets inside. Then, they ensure each packet makes it to the right addressee, whether by truck, train, air, or further sea travel.

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