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Containerization

Introduction: Cargo vessels, specially designed and built to carry dry/bulk cargo, pre-packed in Steel containers, are called Container Ships. Rectangular boxes or containers, made of high-quality steel, are designed to be carried by trucks or freight trains without the contents being unpacked excepting at the terminals or the worksites of the end-users. This multi–modal handling and carriage of goods as a unit load is called containerization. By and large container ships have revolutionized the transport of dry-bulk cargo and as of now “carry nearly 90% of the total sea-borne traffic with over 200 million containers being used between the ports annually” (Source: The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea.) Containers were invented in the 1930s in New Jersey by an American Malcolm Mclean. He later founded the Sea Land Corporation which launched and operated the first ever container ship S.S. “Fairland” in 1956 between New York and Houston. In the later period until 1966, coastal trade of containers was carried out in between eastern and western coasts of U.S.A. In April, 1966 Sea-land Service inaugurated a weekly container ship service to Europe. Afterwards Japan, Australia and European Nations pressed their container carriers into service. What is a TEU? Richard F. Gibney started his career in journalism in 1960’s at Shipbuilding & Shipping Record in U.K., compiling tables of ships ordered and completed. In 1969 when faced with different sizes of containers used by different lines (e.g., Matson’s 24’ & Sealand’s 35’), he coined ‘Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit’ as a measure of comparison. The term stuck & the rest is history. Marine Containers – ISO Definition. International Standard Organization (ISO) defines a marine container as an article of transport equipment, Permanent character and strong enough to be suitable for repeated use.

Specially designed to facilitate the carriage of goods by one or more modes of transport with intermediate handling and transshipment.

Fitted with appropriate devices enabling easy handling and lifting, particularly its transfer. From one mode of transport to another.

Having an internal volumetric space of one cubic meter (35.3 cu.ft.) or more. A general purpose freight container is rectangular in shape with the following characteristics. Weather-proof and watertight, preventing entry or seepage of water during transition or voyage.

Strong enough to withstand multiple transportation, loading and unloading with its contents fully secured and protected against loss/damage.

Handled as a unit-load and transshipped without re-handling the contents. Classification By Size. The mode of classification of containers can be by dimensions. Although there is wide range of container sizes in the market, ISO have specified the dimension of all standard containers. Length: Lengthwise a container, would be in the multiples of 10ft., i.e., 10ft., 20ft., 30ft., or 40 ft.

However, the 20ft. and 40ft. varieties are more common and comprise more than 90% of the world fleet of containers.

20ft. containers dominated the trade up to 1994-95, after which, however, 40ft. boxes have become more widely acceptable by the users.

Containers having length of 27ft., 35ft. and 48ft. are also in use but sizes other than the last two have not been approved by ISO. Height: Height of containers varies from 4 ft. to 9.5 ft.

But the standard containers are either 8ft. or 8.5 ft.

Presently about 85% of the world fleet have a height of 8.5 ft.

Though the recent trend in the market is to use 9.5ft. boxes called high-cube. Width: Width of all ISO standard containers is fixed at 8ft., though non-ISO boxes of slightly higher width are in use in domestic market of U.S.A Volume: Volumetric space inside a standard 20ft. x 8 ft.x 8.5ft. is around 33 cubic meter.

While specifying standard for dimensions of containers, ISO have taken into consideration the tare weight, payload and maximum gross weight of a standard container.

In general, a standard 20ft. container has a maximum gross weight of 24 tons and that of a 40ft. container is about 30.5 tons. Classification by Use. Containers may be broadly classified into three based on types by cargo to be stowed therein

  • The General Cargo container.

  • Thermal container.

  • Special Containers

Other Special Containers. Side open container: Designed and built for loading and unloading cargo by forklifts or other equipment through removable side.

Open side is fitted with removable stanchions or side gate and can be covered with tarpaulins to keep the unit water-tight. Car container:

Purposely built to transport cars with simple construction with frame fitted to floor only without side walls.

The type of container enables one- or two-tier stowage according to the height of cars. Pen container or Livestock container:

Built to carry livestock or cattle with netted windows inside or end walls to facilitate ventilation.

On the lower part of the side wall it has cleaning and drainage outlets

Hide container:

Specially built for raw hides which emits door and extracts requiring air circulation.

Inside walls and floor are specially coated as a protection from contamination and allows easy cleaning after unloading. Container Markings. Markings as per ISO regulations and other International Conventions including CSC Safety approval Plate must be displayed or affixed to each container The markings and the plates are illustrated below:

  1. ISO Making (ISO 6346).

  2. CSC Safety Approval Plate.

  3. Customs Approval Plate.

  4. U/C Mark.

ISO Marking (ISO 6346):

CSC Safety Approval Plate:

Customs Approval Plate:



U/C Marking:



Container Numbering. There is a system of numbering all ISO and Non-ISO freight containers Container Numbering.

The Owner code comprises four capital letters of the Latin alphabet.

It is recommended that the fourth and final letter for containers of the owner code be the letter “U”.

The serial Number comprises six Alpha Numerals.

If however the significant series of numerals does not total to six in number e.g. 1234, then the serial number should be 001234.

Check Digit provides a means of verifying the accuracy in recording other Owner Code and the Serial Number. Owner Code Designations.

Size Code (First Two Digits). First Digit Represents The Length. 2 = 20ft

4 = 40ft

Second Digit Represents The Height Of The Container.

0 = 8’00’’

2 = 8’06” ( FOR 20”ft.)

4 = more than 8’6”

3 = 8’6” (for 40’ ft.) Type Code (Second Two Digits) 0 = Closed.

1 = Closed container, ventilated.

2 = Insulated and Heated container.

3 = Refrigerated container.

4 = Refrigerated container with removable equipment.

5 = Open Top container.

6 = Platform.

7 = Tank container.

8 = Bulk container.

9 = Air container. Container Ships And Containers. 40-foot container is now the more common in use.

Container capacity of a ship is still measured in terms of twenty foot equivalent units or TEU, 40-feet container = 2 TEU.

Prior to April 1966, converted tankers or Dry-bulk carriers were being used as container carriers with suitable modifications.

Full-fledged cellular container ships were pressed into operation by 1973.

Apart from the full-fledged cellular vessels, a variety of other ‘semi container’ and ‘hybrid’ designs are in service; carrying containers with other cargoes. Different Containers For Different Cargoes. In addition to standard containers, there are also specialized types of equipment: Open tops are used for easy load of cargo such as logs, machinery and odd sized goods.

Flat racks can be used for boats, vehicles, machinery or industrial equipment.

Open sides may be used for vegetables such as onions and potatoes.

Tank containers transport many types of liquids such as chemicals, wine and vegetable oil.

How Can Container Ships Keep Food Fresh. Special reefer containers exist that can control temperatures, allowing everything from meat, fruit and vegetables, to dairy products, chemicals and pharmaceuticals to travel across the world. Reefers can keep goods frozen at temperatures as low as -60◦C. However, they can also preserve goods at warmer temperatures if that is necessary. How Do the Boxes Fit on The Ship. The containers are stacked on the ship with up to 8 containers stacked on top of each other on deck. Below the deck a ship can stack up to 11 containers on top of each other.

To make sure that the containers stay in place during the voyage, twist locks are used to connect the containers. A twist lock is a device used for connecting two containers at the corner posts through an interlocking mechanism. Advantages of Container Shipping.

It allows us to meet the needs of the world’s growing population by importing and exporting goods.

It provides consumers with more choice.

It lets us experience goods from entirely different cultures.

It helps modern industries such as electronics and clothing to flourish.

It connects countries, peoples and markets.

It boosts economies and increases employment. Transportation by SEA verses Transportation by AIR

Container shipping is the most efficient way to transport large volumes of goods across the world.

While airplanes are faster, container ships can carry more goods in one trip. It would take hundreds of airplanes to carry all the goods that can fit on just one large container ship.

Transporting goods by container ship is also better for the environment.

It is estimated that on average a container ship emits around 40 times less CO2 than a large freight aircraft and three times less than a heavy truck.

Container shipping is also estimated to be two and a half times more energy efficient than rail and 7 times more so than road. Transporting goods in large volumes makes it cheaper - we call this ‘economies of scale’. How Did Container Shipping Start? For as long as people have been sailing the oceans they have been trading with other countries. The great empires of the world, from the Egyptians to the British Empire, were all built on ocean trade. As far back as 1792, boxes similar to modern containers emerged in England and these were transported with horse and wagon and later moved via rail. The U.S. government used containers during the Second World War. Modern container shipping begun in 1956, when Malcolm McLean, a trucking entrepreneur from North Carolina, U.S., bought a steamship company with the idea of transporting entire truck trailers with their cargo still inside. Various companies in the U.S. began to adopt containerization. In 1966, the vessel Fairland owned by Sea-Land sailed from the U.S. to Rotterdam in the Netherlands with 256 containers. This was the first international voyage of a container ship. During the 1970s container shipping expanded dramatically and ports were established in every continent in the world. This was the beginning of the expansion that made container shipping the backbone of global trade.


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