Inside the interesting world of container transport
ANDtraversing the vast expanses of water that cover more than two-thirds of the planet’s surface, some 50,000 cargo ships bustle about delivering the cargo that powers much of our world.
Tiny cruise ships, cargo giants move millions of containers hundreds of thousands of miles a day – some ships can carry 20,000 containers at a time – while there are 33 million containers in total.
No wonder that not everyone manages to reach their destination safely.
As revealed in Blue Planet II this week, around four a day are believed to die from the waves, however other industry estimates put the figure much higher at 10,000 a year – that’s about 27 a day.
What’s going on with them?
Most will sink, although it may take up to two months for some 20-foot containers (standard size) to disappear beneath the waves. A refrigerated container can be kept afloat by its insulation and float longer at sea.
But they are not of interest.
In 2006, thousands of bags of Doritos were washed up on the beaches of North Carolina’s Outer Banks after the container carrying them broke up in the Atlantic.
Hundreds of LEGO bricks are thrown away every day Perran Sands in Cornwalland other nearby beaches, after a toy container ship was hit by a huge wave in 1997, throwing tons of cargo overboard.
The most notorious such incident, which David Attenborough covered over the weekend, involved the rubber ducks, better known as the Friendly Floatees.
After some 29,000 plastic yellow ducks, red beavers, blue turtles and green frogs were washed into the Pacific in 1992, the little toys began to appear on beaches around the world, from the American West Coast to South America, Australia, and by 2007, in Europe.
The ducks’ journeys were used by oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer to map the global currents of our oceans, although they were already working on a model by tracking 61,000 Nikes lost overboard in 1990.
However, not all of them are so cute.
First, low-floating shipping containers are a dangerous obstacle to other ships, but if that container contains dangerous chemicals or pollutants, the ocean ecosystem can be affected.
How do they move?
A 2008 BBC experiment that tracked a single container for nine months showed the range of commercial shipping, with the BBC Box starting in Southampton and visiting Los Angeles, Yokohama, Brazil and Hong Kong, among others. In its time it carried goods including whiskey, cat food, ink and monosodium glutamate.
What about marine disasters?
Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, says its largest annual container loss was 59. The Through Transport Club, which insures and manages the risk of major shipping companies, estimates that fewer than 2,000 containers are lost annually.
In 2011, the World Shipping Council clarified that even with proper and safe loading, “many factors, from severe weather conditions and heavy seas to more catastrophic and rare events such as ship strandings or collisions, can cause containers to be lost for overboard.” It has been stated that during a “catastrophic loss” over 50 containers can be lost in a single incident.
It has been estimated that approximately 350 containers are lost each year without taking such events into account, and 675 in larger events.
In 2002, the huge cargo ship MV Tricolor was sailing across the English Channel towards Southampton with a cargo of around 3,000 BMWs, Volvos and Saabs when it collided with another container ship. As many as 2,862 cars and 77 units of cargo were lost, including parts for tractors and cranes.
Two days later, the Tricolor was struck by another ship carrying 70,000 tons of highly flammable diesel fuel. Later, a third ship, a tugboat, would hit the Tricolor, dislodging a safety valve and causing a massive oil spill.
What is the largest container ship in the world?
It would be OOCL Hong Kong, built this year by Orient Overseas Container Line and capable of holding 21,413 20-foot containers. At over 1,300 feet long and nearly 200 wide, it’s basically four boat football pitches.
The largest container ship in history was the Seawise Giant, which served for 30 years transporting crude oil around the world, but was finally sold for scrapping in 2010 at a scrap yard in India. In its heyday, this oceanic beast weighed over 564,000 tons, was 1,500 feet long, and took a full five miles to stop, such was its weight.
Can I travel on one?
Travel-agent It specializes in cargo ship cruises in laymen touring the world on a cargo ship.
“Traveling on a cargo ship is a unique experience. Whether you love the sea, are aware of your carbon footprint, don’t like to fly or just prefer to sail in a relaxed atmosphere, away from the crowds, traveling by cargo ship is the right choice for you.
It advises that most cargo ships can only carry six passengers and age restrictions may apply. It warns that passengers should remember that “these are hard-working cargo ships, not cruise ships.”
But that means weeks in the open sea, all over the world. Anyone up for an 80 day trip from Singapore to Melbourne and back?
In 2016, Telegraph Travel spoke to the 37-year-old Data Torbjørn C. Pedersenknown as Thor, who spent three years traveling the world on container ships through the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and the Americas.
Luxury is usually lacking, Pedersen said, but he is pleasantly surprised by the quality of the accommodation.
“I slept on the kitchen floor of a very dirty boat, but the worst cabins were comparable to mid-range hotel rooms. The best were downright luxurious. I was on a ship that was 10 years old but still the bed was good, the walls were clean, the shower and toilet worked – couldn’t complain at all,” he said.
Where are the busiest shipping ports?
Mainly in Asia.
What are the world’s busiest shipping lanes?
Believe it or not, the Strait of Dover, the gulf between Britain and France, is the world’s busiest international seaway, with over 400 merchant ships using it daily.
The Strait of Malacca, between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is another extremely busy sea area with some 34 shipwrecks dating back to the 1880s.
It is estimated that around 20 percent of the world’s oil flows through the Strait of Hormuz, separating the Persian Gulf and Oman.
But as you can see in the above map, created by Dryerthe world is flooded with oil tankers.