Container Ships: Insanely Massive and Surprisingly Interesting

Most people in the United States drive cars that were built in other countries. You see them on the road every day, but have you ever thought about how all those Hondas and Mazdas made their way to America?

Foreign cars, along with billions of other products made overseas, are shipped each day to the U.S. and around the globe in cargo containers. These containers are stacked on container ships like Legos, stretching as high as some buildings in Times Square.

During the last few decades, global trade has grown, and with the ever-increasing demand, transportation of goods has evolved as well.

Here is a look at some interesting facts about container ships and the evolution of the trade industry. Learn how things have changed and continue to change to meet the needs of our consumer-driven market.

The Evolution of Shipping and Trade

The industry of shipping goods overseas is an ancient practice. In fact, it was the only way of transporting goods across the ocean before modern advances in technology. In the 1950s, container ships were almost 450 ft. long (1 ½ football fields), and over 50 feet wide.

The largest ships today have quadrupled in size. Currently, the largest container ships are over 4 football fields in length, nearly 2 football fields wide, and when loaded with freight, stand as tall as buildings in New York.

Here is a fact to help you imagine the size: there is enough room to store 745 million bananas on one ship. That’s enough bananas to feed every person in Europe and North America. These ships are so massive that it has become impossible for them to sail through the Panama Canal—the main thoroughfare that made global trade possible.

The large size of today’s ships has led to a project to expand the Panama Canal. This project is intended to double the size and capacity of the canal by the year 2016. Project managers intend to create new lanes of traffic to allow smaller ships through faster, as well as adding significant width and depth to existing lanes for larger container ships (like the one full of bananas).

So, why sink all of this money into shipping? Why not utilize planes in place of ships? Because liner ships are the most efficient form of transportation we have today—although the oldest, it’s still the best. These ships have the capacity to transport several warehouses-worth of goods in a single trip. They are responsible for transporting more than $4 trillion-worth of goods annually, to the U.S. alone.

It is also important that we continue using seaborne trade to keep costs low. It is exponentially more expensive to fly goods by plane. However, these are not the only reasons. Container ships and the industry of shipping provide several benefits to nearly everyone in the world.

Benefits of Container Ships

Global trade has become the new norm. Now that consumers are accustomed to buying things at a certain price and getting modern tools or technologies from other countries, it would be nearly impossible for us to revert to old ways of manufacturing everything in our own country.  

Many people encourage the idea of reverting back to the original ways of trading goods and services. However, it is a misconception that importing products and exporting labor is a bad thing. There are several benefits to buying things made in the country you live in, but there are also many benefits to contributing to the global economy.

Benefits of Shipping Goods on Container Ships

  • It’s Green: Although the largest cargo ships use as much fuel as 50 million cars in one route, they are still the greenest form of transportation compared to trucks and planes.
  • It Employs People: The shipping industry employs about 1.5 million seafarers around the world.
  • It Employs Even More People: This number doesn’t account for all of those working in ports, in logistics, and obviously in jobs that rely on the goods the shipping industry supplies. There are about 55,000 ships carrying cargo around the world. Imagine the amount of people it takes in order for that to happen.
  • It Helps Steel Manufacturers: There is as much steel in the largest container ships as 8 Eiffel towers. Steel is a renewable resource. Many people work in the steel manufacturing industry.
  • It Contributes Trillions to the Economy: You are already privy to the fact that the U.S. transports trillions in goods annually, but think about the effect that has. Trading goods employs people in other countries as well as our own. All of the goods we trade in our country gives local people jobs. If Wal-Mart never had stock, no one would shop there and there would be no exchange of money. With no exchange of money there would be nothing to pay the people who work there.
  • It Provides Luxury: Thanks to the shipping industry, we can drive luxury cars made in Germany, Japan, and China. It also gives us things like our iPhones, iPads, computers, furniture, and clothes.

Who knew that container ships were so interesting? Give thanks to container ships and the containers they use. You may never look at a Honda the same again.