This vessel category carries all of its cargo in unitized containers both on and under deck. The latter are stowed in vertical cells formed by angle corner guides. The deck-stowed containers are stacked sometimes five or six high and twelve across, inter-locked with fittings and secured by special lashings. Most of the container vessels are not equipped with cargo handling gear, relying instead on shore cranes or Auxiliary Crane Ships for cargo loading and discharge. Nonetheless, containers do enjoy rapid loading and discharge. Some vessels are equipped with a plug-in system for refrigerated containers or have entire holds/cells under refrigeration.
The military advantages of containerships include their large cargo capacity, excellent suitability for carriage of sustaining supplies and ammunition, rapid and efficient cargo operations, and the high likelihood of their availability due to the large numbers of containerships in the world. Movements by containers also provide greater degrees of cargo security, reduce instances of pilferage and damage to cargo, reduce cargo handling costs, and result in faster more efficient deliveries. Their military disadvantages include near total dependence on specialized shoreside equipment for cargo loading and discharge, and general unsuitability for carriage of large vehicles and oversized cargo unless modified to utilize heavy duty flatracks.
A container is an internationally standardised packing box for cargo in which goods can be safely stowed away, stored and transported. It is designed for the most efficient use of space and for any type of transportation, be it by road, rail or sea. Standard ocean shipping containers are weatherproof, made of steel or similar material, constructed to withstand the high forces to which they may be subjected in heavy seas, and usually designed and sized to permit their efficient interchange for connecting with intermodal systems for inland rail or highway movement. Shipping containers are available in a variety of configurations that include end opening, side opening, half heights, open top, flatrack, refrigerated, liquid bulk (tank), and modular (quadcon/tricon).
Except in highly specialized trades, cargo containers generally conform to US and international standards that have been developed by the American National Standards Institute and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) respectively. The size standards for outer dimensions of shipping containers are 20' or 40' length, 8' width, and 8' or 8'6" in height. To increase revenues, "high cube" containers with heights of 9'6" have come into common use. Fortunately, most containerships can carry containers of mixed heights without significant difficulty. Depending on cargo density, a standard 20' container can carry up to 15-20 short tons (STs) or 29 measurement tons (MT) (MT of 40 cubic feet) of cargo. The abbreviation TEU means Twenty-feet Equivalent Units. The other size is the forty-feet container, Forty-feet Equivalent Unit (FEU) and can be loaded with up to 30 tons of cargo. Containerships generally carry a mix of 20' and 40' containers, and some are fitted for deck stowage of 45' and 48' lengths.
The use of containers started during the Second World War, but the history of container ships began in 1956, when the first container service was opened between the USA and Puerto Rico. Malcom McLean, a trucking entrepreneur from North Carolina, acquired a steamship company in 1955 with the idea of using its ships to transport cargo-laden truck trailers. McLean's experiment resulted in the world's first container ship, the Ideal-X, a converted oil tanker whose deck had been strengthened to accommodate containers. It made its inaugural voyage from New Jersey to Texas on 26 April 1956 with 58 trailers (containers) on its deck. The pioneering container ships could carry only 59 containers having a length of 35 feet and stacked two-high on deck. McLean's enterprise became Sea-Land Services, an international shipping company. Container operators invested quite a bit in new technology. Sea-Land was the leader and they provided a great labor pool for the other shipping lines, like American President Lines.
Once this seemingly radical idea of carrying boxes by ship had been proven sufficiently in the coastwise trade, the first true container ships, having cellular holds into which containers were loaded by cranes came into being. Their capacity was around 200 TEU - the designation "TEU" (for twenty-foot equivalent units) being the standard measure of capacity adopted by the industry. The first ship specifically designed for container transportation appeared in 1960, viz. the Supanya, of 610 teu. The first vessel loaded with containers docked at an European port in 1966, also from the US.
The reason for the success of the container ship is that containerised shipping is a rational way of transporting most manufactured and semi-manufactured goods. This rational way of handling the goods is one of the fundamental reasons for the globalisation of production. Containerisation has therefore led to an increased demand for transportation and, thus, for further containerisation. A traditional / conventional vessel required between 8 to 10 days to load or unload 10,000 tons of general cargo. A containership can handle the same volume in 2 days within Europe and in 3 or 4 days on other continents.
The development in the container market was slow until 1968, in which year deliveries reached 18 such vessels. Ten of these 18 ships had a capacity of 1,000-1,500 teu. In 1969, 25 ships were delivered, and the size of the largest ships increased to 1,500-2,000 teu. In 1972, the first container ships with a capacity of more than 3,000 teu were delivered from the German Howaldtwerke Shipyard.
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