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Container ships

Container ships carry most of the world’s manufactured goods and products, usually on scheduled liner services.


Container ships transport a combination of two standardized container sizes known as 20- or 40-feet equivalent units, abbreviated to TEUs and FEUs. The containers are carried in cellular holds and stacked on the ships hatch covers and upper deck. The contents of the containers can be non-perishable, or perishable, with the latter often being carried in refrigerated containers.

Cross-section container ship

Liner shipping
Container shipping generally operates according to regular schedules on set routes, known as ‘liner’ services. For this reason, the sector is sometimes referred to as ‘liner shipping’.

The handling system for the containers is completely mechanized, making containerisation a highly efficient and fast mode of transport. Dedicated container ships depend on the ports container cranes to load and unload the containers.

Container ships have played a key role in the globalisation of products over the past twenty years, enabling consumer goods and products to be manufactured in developing, lower cost countries for export to higher cost countries.

Container ships have grown significantly in size in over the last 20 years, in 2002 a large container ship would be able to carry approximately 6,500 TEU, today the largest containerships can now transport nearly 24,000 TEU.

These economies of scale have further reduced the per unit cost of manufactured goods for the consumer. For instance, the cost to ship a washing machine from China to northern Europe is around $10, or 2-3% of the product cost.

The environmental cost is also low, with container ships emitting an average 30g CO2/tonne nm versus 140g CO2/tonne nm for a heavy goods vehicle. Indeed, an entire container voyage on a ship from China to Europe produces around the same CO2 emissions as that of a European long-haul truck if it were to carry the same container only 200 kilometres.