Maritime shipping involves the transport of goods or persons using cargo ships. While many people think that maritime shipping is old fashioned, many millions of tons of goods are transported in this fashion every year. Even with data showing that the industry has still not totally recovered from the recent recession, the multibillion-dollar maritime shipping industry remains a vital part of America’s economy.
Read on for several reasons to keep this shipping method on your list of options:
It’s survived the test of time
As one might imagine, shipping by sea has historically been the most popular way to carry goods. While shipping by automobile and airplane has only become popular in the 20th century, maritime shipping has been popular for thousands of years. There is evidence that transporting goods by ship was widely practiced as early as 2000 B.C. The Romans, for example, were known to have a well-developed shipping network that enriched noble families as well as working-class families. In fact, the maritime shipping industry served as one of the few mechanisms of social mobility in the Roman Empire.
The industry’s long existence has also brought about many functional improvements, including its largest innovation just a few decades ago: the implementation of containerization. Previously, people crammed goods onto ships according to a variety of different methods, and sometimes according to no method at all. Today, the use of containers of uniform size has led to a more efficient loading process, which allows ships to carry much greater amounts of cargo. Moreover, the recent advent of super-sized container ships further reduces the cost of transportation by allowing each vessel to carry substantially larger loads.
It’s more cost efficient
One advantage that ship transport has over other kinds of transport is that it’s cheaper. This is primarily due to the price of fuel, although the cost of insurance is certainly a factor. While large cargo ships do use a great deal of fuel, ship fuel is much less expensive than airplane fuel. In addition, cargo ships are more fuel efficient than airplanes and trains. This difference is very important in this day and age, as plane fuel costs have gone up significantly in the last few years. As a result, the price disparity between the various types of transport has become more pronounced, with contract freight rates for container ships dropping by 5 percent late last year.
It’s not “one size fits all”
While the phrase “maritime shipping” brings to mind images of giant container-laden cargo ships, there are many other types of ships involved in sea transport. Oil tankers are perhaps the second most well-known type of shipping vessel. Although container ships and oil tankers do make up the majority of commercial ships, any kind of ship can be used for transporting cargo. Barges and sailboats are often used in developing countries, especially for short trips and small loads. There are even a few hovercraft employed as commercial ships, but their high cost and mechanical limitations mean that few companies use them in great numbers.
Why sea transport will continue to be necessary
While maritime shipping is very cost-efficient and relatively safe, it does have its downsides, the main one being transit time. Air transport is much faster, up to 20 times faster in some circumstances. It will generally take a cargo ship four to five days to cross the Atlantic, while a plane will take roughly eight hours. Thus, cargo such as emergency medical and food aid would necessarily need to rely on air transport.
However, even given the potential negatives of the industry, the outlook for maritime shipping remains strong. In fact, nearly 90 percent of all global trade involves the use of sea transport, and the international economy would come to a halt without it. Because of their size, these vessels are the only means of transportation for large volumes of freight.
At roughly 50,000 strong, the number of cargo ships on the ocean is now four times what it was only a few decades ago, and shipbuilders are continuing to see a healthy demand for new container ships. In fact, the global shipbuilding industry is expected to achieve annualized five-year growth rates of 3 to 5 percent, and experts predict that the rates will increase even more after 2017.