The World of the Container Ship

What then is a container ship? It is a revolutionary way of moving cargo quickly across the world's trade routes, all the freight packed safely in truck size metal containers, with the vessel's carrying capacity measured in TEU ( ie. twenty foot equivalent units ) In essence, the number of 20 foot long containers that can fit in the ship, and be transported to their destination. ( a standard 20 foot container is: 5.9 meters long by 2.35 meters wide and 2.35 meters high )

A large container ship in port. Photo by courtesy Port of Vancouver

A large container ship in port. Photo by courtesy Port of Vancouver .


In the Beginning.
The first container ships were converted from tankers built from such Liberty ships surplus after the end of WW2.The high cost of port charges, the large gang of dockers needed to unload the conventional cargo ship, when goods were packed in bales, in boxes, crates, and barrels, sparked the need for new technology, and the container, and ships to carry them was spawned. The old cargo ship, having sailed across the world, arrived in port to spend costly days unloading.

The container ship.
Today, larger and larger purpose built container ships are being planned and constructed. The German Hapag -LLoyd Company's Colombo Express, is 335.07 meters long, has a 42.87 beam, a Gross Registered Tonnage of 93,750 tons, a speed of 25 knots, and is listed to carry 8,749 TEU ( thats an amazing 8,749 by 20 foot containers )

In size, this massive container ship is only out muscled by the bigger crude oil carriers. These ships carry a minimum of crew members, and measure their port stays in hours, rather than the days needed to unload the old cargo ships, now replaced.

Hapag-LLoyd's large Container ship Colombo Express, can lift 8,749 20 foot containers in a single shipment.

Hapag-LLoyd's large Container ship Colombo Express, can lift 8,749 20 foot containers in a single shipment.

Loading and unloading container ships.
Computers can plan the stowage of the individual containers which are slotted into racks in the holds below decks, and on deck they may be stacked up to five high. Come the time to unload these metal containers, a single gantry shore side crane can handle up to 20/30 lifts an hour.

Two categories of Container ship.

1. The huge main line ships that sail the world's major trade routes to the hub ports such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

2. The smaller "FEEDER" container ships that will ferry containers to and from the hub ports.

A "FEEDER" container ship loading at Copenhagen Denmark.

A "FEEDER" container ship loading at Copenhagen Denmark.

At the moment, Port Phillip Bay which has to traversed for container ships to reach the Port of Melbourne, needs its main shipping channels to be deepened, to allow the largest ships of this type who will have entered the narrow Heads which guard the entrance to this vast expanse of water, to sail up to the discharging docks.

The Victorian Government is planning to run a test dredge, and there is hot debate from the Green Environment Lobby, that such a move will destroy the delicate balance of the Marine life living within Port Phillip Bay. On the other side of the coin are those whose argue our economy needs to accommodate the shipping lines who run these larger container vessels, and the commercial interests who use their services.

If containers from Europe need to off loaded at Singapore into smaller container ships for delivery to Melbourne, rather than a direct delivery, then extra costs will entail, and something like at least 10 extra days will be added to the time required.

It is my belief, that in this case, the economic argument is likely to win the day.

The advent of the container ship, and the fact that they will get even larger, has sounded the death knell for the cargo vessel that tramped round the world. The bulk of goods carried between continents will be shipped in the standard 20 foot container, that will protect the contents largely from pilferage, which was rife at ports in the past, and delivery will be faster and cheaper than under the old method. Coastal trade around specific countries will still rely on the smaller cargo ship to fulfil local shipping needs.

This newer technology of containers and the ships to carry them has changed the way we ship goods from one side of the world to the other.


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