10 Facts about Shipping Containers

1. The “Father of Containerization” was Malcom McLean (1913-2001). In 1956 he developed the metal shipping container to replace the traditional “break bulk” method of goods handling. He later founded Sea-Land Service and his business began to grow. Adding several transpacific routes, in 1967 he was invited by the US government to start a container service to South Vietnam, which developed into 40% of the company’s revenue in 1968-69. McLean was named “Man of the Century” by the International Maritime Hall of Fame.

2. There are currently over 17 million shipping containers in the world, and five or six million of them are currently zipping around the world on vessels, trucks, and trains. In total, they make around 200 million trips a year.

3. It’s estimated that there are 10,000 shipping containers lost at sea every year. That’s almost one container every hour! Lost containers are often damaged by waves and sink quickly, but some may float for a little while. Those that do float, tend to do so just below the surface.

4. Roughly 97% of all dry freight shipping containers are manufactured in China. This is primarily due to the fact that much of the world’s dry freight products are produced in China. It’s easier to produce the container close to the cargo, than to reposition and empty container around the world.

5. Shanghai China is the busiest container port in the world. 29,069,000 containers passed through the port annually. For reference, that converts to 2.4 million monthly, 79,641 daily, or an astounding 3,318 hourly!

The port of Los Angeles processes 6,500,000 annually, ranking it #17 in the world, and #1 in the United States.

6. Largest container ship in the world is the Emma Maersk, owned by the A. P. Moller Maersk Group. In 2006 she was the largest container ship ever built, measuring 1302 ft (397 meters), and as of 2010 she and her seven sister ships are the longest container ships that have ever been constructed. Emma can carry between 13,500 and 15,200 20′ containers.

7. All commercially used containers are tracked with a BIC code, similar to a license plate on a car, and they all carry a standard format [XXX-U-123456-1]. The first three letters signify the owner, the next letter is the category of the container (U = freight container, J = freight related equipment, Z = trailers or chassis), followed by a six digit serial number and finally a check digit.

8. Shipping containers can last over 20 years! Provided they are taken care of with regular paint and maintenance, a good container will serve you for a long time.

9. A standard 20′ shipping container can hold 1,150 cubic feet, while a 40′ high cube contains 2,700 cubic feet. Just for reference, a 20′ container can hold around 3,596 shoe boxes, and a 40′ high cube can hold 8,443 shoe boxes.

10. 95% of the world’s cargo moves by ship. While FedEx and similar logistics companies are quick, they only manage a small percentage of goods. Due to higher costs, it still makes more financial sense to transport goods in high volume ships.

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