Different Types of Ship in the World Merchant Fleet

Container ships

which carry most of the world's manufactured goods and products, usually through scheduled liner services.

Bulk carriers

the work horses of the fleet, these transport raw materials such as iron ore and coal. Identifiable by the hatches raised above deck level which cover the large cargo holds.


transport crude oil, chemicals and petroleum products. Tankers can appear similar to bulk carriers, but the deck is flush and covered by oil pipelines and vents.

Ferries and Cruise ships

Ferries usually perform short journeys for a mix of passengers, cars and commercial vehicles. Most of these ships are Ro-Ro (roll on - roll off) ferries, where vehicles can drive straight on and off, making it a speedy and easily accessible way to travel.

Demand for cruise ships expanded rapidly during the 1980s, leading to a new generation of large and luxurious 'floating hotels'.

Specialist ships

Such as anchor handling and supply vessels for the offshore oil industry, salvage tugs, ice breakers and research vessels.

*All diagrams of ships have been kindly provided by the Japanese Shipowners' Association.

  • International Chamber of Shipping
  • 38 St Mary Axe, London
  • EC3A 8BH