Without doubt the introduction of the container ship revolutionised the cargo shipping industry. The first containerisation experiments took place in USA in 1956 and were followed a year later by the introduction of a container service across the north Atlantic.
Containers are a standard size, the initial containers introduced were 10, 20, 30 and 40 feet in length. The most popular container size used was the 20 foot unit and this quickly became the industry standard, it is now referred to as a TEU (Twenty foot Equivalent Unit). A 40′ container is referred to as 2 TEU.
The standardised measurements of these containers allows for purpose built vessels which have vertical metal guides in their holds allowing the containers to be slid in to place easily, these vessels are said to be ‘fully cellular’ and have many advantages over the previously employed conventional cargo vessels. The working time at port of these vessels is dramatically lower than the previous vessels, reduced from being measured in weeks to days, hours and minutes!
Due to the vast benefits offered by container ships approximately 90% of worldwide cargo is now transported on container ships. In an effort to further benefit from the economies of scale which these vessels offer shipping lines have been introducing progressively larger vessels. Some vessels currently in service are capable of carrying 15,000 TEU. In comparison, the capacity of the first purpose built cellular containerships introduced in the 1970s was 1,000 – 2,500 TEU,the vessels used prior to these in the 1950’s and 60’s were modified cargo vessels and had capacities ranging from 500 to 800 TEU.
Despite the advantages which container ships offer in terms of operation speed and convenience of carriage, they are still subject to the unpredictability of the sea and of the people which crew them and as such are not invincible. There are many disasters which can befall a container vessel.