Cargo Ship


Bulk carriers (“bulkers”), are the great workhorses of the shipping world, carrying raw dry cargoes in huge cavernous holds, such as coal, iron ore, grain, sulphur, scrap metal. Currently, there is a huge demand for these vessels, driven by the extraordinary expansion of the Chinese economy. Imports of iron ore into China have boosted the earnings of bulk carrier owners as freight rates have gone through the roof into uncharted territory.


Tankers are designed to carry liquid cargoes (not just oil) although the carriage of crude oil has brought the tanker unwelcome attention and largely unjustified criticism. Oil tankers come in two basic flavors, the crude carrier, which carries crude oil, and the clean products tanker, which carries the refined products, such as petrol, gasoline, aviation fuel, kerosene and paraffin. Tankers range in all sizes, from the small bunkering tanker (used for refueling larger vessels) of 1000 DWT tons to the real giants: the VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) of between 2-300,000 DWT and the ULCC (Ultra Large Crude Carrier) of over 300,000 DWT

HANDYSIZE TANKER = 20,000 – 30,000 DWT
HANDYMAX TANKER = approx 45,000 DWT
PANAMAX TANKER = approx 79,000 DWT
AFRAMAX TANKER = between 79,000 – 120,000 DWT
SUEZMAX TANKER = between 120,000 – 180,000 DWT
V.L.C.C. TANKER = between 200,000 – 300,000 DWT
U.L.C.C. TANKER = over 300,000 DWT

It should be remembered that over 60% of the world’s oil is transported by these tankers, and over 99% of that arrives safely without causing pollution. Indeed most oil pollution seen on beaches comes from the engine rooms of vessels (of all types) and not from the cargo tanks of tankers. To ensure that oil tankers transport to all parts of the world, and not just the affluent western countries where freight rates might be expected to be higher, (and therefore tankers congregate), there is a system called WORLDSCALE, which ensures that net freight earnings for tanker owners are the same, regardless of length of voyage and varying costs (such as bunkers and port dues), so that a tanker will earn (net) as much per day on a route that is long and arduous as they will on a short and low cost voyage. This ensures that tankers take their goods to all parts of the world and don’t just concentrate on the lucrative Middle East to Western Europe or USA routes.


Refrigerated Cargo Carrying Vessels (“Reefers”) are purpose-built to carry fruit, meat and other food products across the sea in a fresh and clean manner.

Perhaps the most famous of these types of vessels are the banana carriers, trading between the Caribbean and Europe. They are sleek and fast, as their trade demands, with cooling (refrigeration) equipment to keep their cargoes fresh.
Historically the months of February and March see the greatest use of these vessels. This gives a clue to their current weakness, from a commercial point of view. Any vessel which is governed by highly seasonal trades will inevitably have high and low activity periods during a year. At some points, there is very little work for dedicated refrigerated cargo vessels, making them rather inefficient, compared to container ships, (now with reefer box capabilities) which can switch trades in low season to carry other goods. The dedicated reefer vessel (probably the most loved type of cargo ship to work on as a seaman) is, therefore, becoming less common, with fewer being built each year.


The carriage of live animals around the world is performed by specialist vessels, designed (or adapted) to transport large numbers of cattle and sheep in secure but humane conditions. The trade is largely from Australia to the Middle East &/or S.E. Asia. One modern vessel may carry up to 125,000 sheep.

This transport of live animals requires experienced and specialized operators. The dangers of disease, rejection, injury and death to and from the animals is particularly high, coupled with the current activities of animal rights activists. When a livestock carrier has a fire or sinks, the loss of life of the animals can be appalling. Remember, sheep and cattle can’t swim and they are not very good when it comes to Lifeboat Drills!!!


The LNG carrier (Liquefied Natural Gas) and it’s cousin the LPG carrier (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) are products of the late twentieth century. LNG and LPG are the preferred fuel types of certain countries for their industrial power needs. Japan is one such country, and so LNG needs to be transported to Japan, but is not the easiest of cargoes to be transported. In its natural state, LNG is a gas, so to transport it, it needs to be either pressurized into a liquefied form, or kept as a liquid by reducing the temperature (simple application of Boyle’s Law in physics!).
The shape of the LNG Carrier is quite unmistakable, with the shape of the Moss tanks (which are like enormous spherical thermos flasks!) visible along the deck, which has led to the nickname of “Dinosaur Eggs Carriers”. An alternative design is known as the “membrane” type, which allows for a more standard shape of vessel without the “eggs”.

Obviously, the carriage of an explosive gas – kept at below freezing temperatures as an unstable liquid presents a very dangerous cargo, yet it is for this very fact, that LNG Carriers have about the best safety record of all maritime vessels. Only the best officers and crews are employed on these vessels, and the vessels themselves are maintained meticulously, and renewed frequently. There have been accidents involving LNG / LPG carriers, but where such events have occurred, the crews or salvors have so far, successfully managed to vent off the cargo into the atmosphere, thus rendering the lethal cargo harmless.


The car carrier or more correctly the P.C.C. (Pure Car carrier) or P.C./T.C. (Pure car/truck carrier), could never be described as a beauty of the seas, yet in it’s rectangular design, is purpose built to carry large numbers of cars.

Manufacturers of cars, mainly in Japan and Europe, use these vessels to ship large quantities of their products around the world. Every Japanese, Korean, or European car you see on your roads, may have been brought across on one of these car carrier vessels.


The Containership or “Box ship” is the great success story of the last 40 years. General cargo was historically carried in dry cargo vessels, without any particular specialization. Cargo loading and unloading was always a slow, laborious task, due to the varying shapes, sizes, weights and fragility of the numerous cargoes being carried on any one vessel. The idea of standardizing the carrying box, or container at 20 feet long was a breakthrough that allowed for vessels to be designed to carry these standard sized boxes, and for dockside equipment also to be designed to lift , stack and store these specific shapes.

In 1937, a New Jersey truck driver named Malcolm McLean, sitting in his truck at the New Jersey Docks suddenly had a novel idea. Instead of large numbers of stevedores having to manually load cargo, why not create a standard shaped box into which goods can be handled in a standard way ? His idea took 20 years before the first container transit was undertaken (with his own money, because no ship owners would listen to his idea) In 1969 Malcolm McLean retired as a multi-millionaire !!!

So, from a “back of the fag-packet” idea was born the container ship. Initially, these were small vessels of up to 10,000 DWT, carrying no more than a few hundred TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units), but have grown in size as the success and economies of these vessels have become more obvious. Today’s container ships are being built to take 8,000 T.E.U., with plans to build 10 – 12,000 TEU ships.

As well as the Twenty-foot container, many goods need larger boxes, so there is a larger standard-sized container, the FEU (Forty Foot Equivalent Unit). Onboard a modern containership, the complex method of loading the TEU and FEU in an order that will facilitate offloading at the other end is now largely computerized. As if specially designed to give Chief Officers a headache, modern development is the “high box”, a standard container in length and width, but 9′ 6″ high (instead of the standard 8′). Refrigerated containers (“reefer containers”) have become very popular for the carriage of meat and fruit. Due to their flexibility of usage, these reefer containers are gradually destroying the need for specialized “reefer” ships, whose numbers are declining due to their business being taken over by these reefer containers.
These vessels are built for speed and can reach upwards of 28 knots, moving cargoes around the world. Globally storing and returning empty boxes has become an industry in itself!

Through-transport or inter-modal transport, means that these containers can be offloaded from a ship, and rapidly loaded onto trains or onto container lorries for onward transport to the place of delivery.

Until vessels started to be built to carry specific cargoes, all vessels were simply general or dry cargo vessels, i.e. built to carry any and all cargoes either in drums and bales or on pallets. Such cargoes were put in general holds with no specialization. The role of the general/dry cargo vessel began to wane with the arrival of bulk carriers and tankers, but the decline of these general vessels has accelerated since the arrival of containerization (in the 1960’s). Not only are container ships able to carry greater volumes of cargo in standard shaped cargo containers, the time spent loading and discharging has been dramatically reduced. Whereas a dry cargo vessel may take 3 – 4 days to load or discharge, a container ship can achieve the same in a matter of hours. Although general/ dry cargo vessels remain as the largest (in pure numbers) of cargo carrying vessels, they are often smaller (rarely above 50,000 Gross tons) than the specialized vessels that are slowly replacing them.

Shaped quite unlike any other cargo vessels, some heavy lift vessels can be ballasted down, so that cargoes (often on pontoons) can be floated on. The vessel is then raised, lifting the cargo, (now resting on the deck of the heavy lift vessel), out of the water, ready for ocean transit, often to the other side of the world. These specialist vessel are often used in the oil industry for the carriage of jack up rigs. Other unusual cargoes can include power plants, desalination units, generators and yachts.


The Ro-Ro, or more fully the Roll on – roll off vessel, comes in a number of shapes and sizes, but generally in two types; the passenger ro-ro and the Cargo ro-ro.
Passenger ro-ros have become common sights wherever people want to travel over water with their vehicles. It is probably the only type of cargo vessel that most people have travelled on. Usually a rear door (but sometimes a bow door) allows for vehicles to be driven on and off, stored on the car deck below the passenger accommodation areas.
The cargo ro-ro is less “plush” than the passenger type, as these vessels are designed for the carriage of commercial vehicles where luxurious passenger accommodation is not a primary consideration. Considerable concerns have been expressed over the bow-door type of ro-ro design. The HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE was one such vessel, where a practice of sailing before the bow door was fully closed had been allowed to develop. Tragically, on leaving Zeebrugge, the folly of this practice led to the disaster that claimed nearly 200 lives. If water is allowed to enter the car deck, the stability of the whole vessel can be rapidly affected. It is estimated that it only needs one centimeter of water over the whole car deck, for the vessel to become so unstable that it can overturn. The ESTONIA was another such vessel where, in a storm, the shield over the bow door was ripped off. Once water penetrated the car deck the vessel began to turn over and sink. In the bitter waters of the Baltic Sea, the loss of life was terrible. Another earlier accident was that of the SEASPEED DORA which led many to call these vessels “ro-ro-ro” ships – Roll on, roll off….roll over!!!

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