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Facts about Shipping containers

Shipping containers have affected our daily lives for many years, but what do you really know about them? Shipping containers carry a large percentage of the goods that impact our daily lives, and many people work with them (both directly and indirectly) in business. Since many people don’t think about containers on a regular basis, we thought you might like to hear a few facts about shipping containers.

1. The inventor of the shipping container was Malcolm McLean (1913-2001). In 1956 he created the metal shipping container to replace the old style “break bulk” method of goods handling. Later on, he founded Sea-Land Service. McLean added many transpacific routes and in 1967 the US government asked him to start a container service to South Vietnam, which became 40% of the company’s turnover in 1968-69.

2. There are currently over 17 million shipping containers in the world, and five or six million of them are currently shipping 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 can be damaged by waves and sink quickly, but some may float for a little while. The ones that don’t sink, often float just below the surface which can cause a lot of damage to other sailing vessels.

4. Approximately 97% of all shipping containers are manufactured in China. This is due to the fact the Chinese labour rate is lower than many other countries and that much of the world’s products are produced in China. It is far easier to produce the container close to the shipment, than to re-position containers around the world.

5. Shanghai, China was the busiest container port in the world in 2014. 35 million (TEU=equivalent to a 20ft container) containers passed through the port. The Port of Felixstowe handled just under 4 million 20ft equivalent containers during 2013. Felixstowe is the largest port in the UK and handles 42% of the UK’s container traffic.

6. The ‘CSCL Globe’ was recorded the largest cargo ship in the world in November 2014. The ‘CSCL Globe’ is owned by China Shipping container lines and is a length of 1,312ft long by 194ft wide and holds the equivalent of 19,100 TEU (TEU=20ft equivalent).

7. All commercially used shipping containers have a serial number which is made up of a 4 letter prefix (nearly always ending with a U and a seven digit number [XXX-U-123456-1]. The first three letters signify the owner, the next letter is the category of the container (U = freight container), followed by a six digit serial number and finally a check digit. There is a mathematical formula that works out the check digit (final number).

8. Shipping containers can last over 25 years! Provided they are taken care of with regular paint and maintenance. See our Container care page.

9. A standard 20′ shipping container can hold 1,170 cubic feet and the max gross weight is 30T with a tare weight of 2.2T. A 40′ high cube contains 2,700 cubic feet and the max gross weight is 32.5T with a tare weight of 3.8T.

10. 95% of the world’s cargo moves by ship. It still makes financial sense to transport goods in high volume via sea/ocean.

11. All shipping containers have a CSC plate affixed, which acts like a passport for a container. HSE have more information


Jane Billing

2 thoughts on “Facts about Shipping containers

  1. I have heard that the number one product shipped in containers is bananas. Can you confirm this?

    1. Hi Dennis,
      Many thanks for your comment.
      I would say that bananas are transported in the refrigerated containers and not the standard ones.
      Although we sell shipping containers for static storage, we rarely get involved with the actual shipping side.

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