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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 20 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 1,582 shipping containers lost at sea (includes catastrophic events) every year. That’s almost 4 container every day! Lost containers can be damaged by waves and sink (a 20ft can take up to 57 days and a 40ft will take three times as long, to sink). 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 2017. 40 million (TEU=equivalent to a 20ft container) containers passed through the port in 2017. The Port of Felixstowe handled 3.74 million 20ft equivalent containers during 2017. Felixstowe is the largest port in the UK and handles 44% of the UK’s container traffic.

6. The ‘OOCL Hong Kong’ was recorded the largest cargo ship in the world. The ‘OOCL Hong Kong’ is owned by OOCL and is a length of 400 meters long by 58.8 meters wide and holds the equivalent of 21,413 TEU (TEU=20ft equivalent). The OOCL Hong Kong visited Felixstowe in June 2017.

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 = unit 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


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About Jane Billing
Jane Billing has over 30 years in shipping container supply. During that time Jane has earned a very broad knowledge of the whole shipping container industry. From construction, to shipping and conversions, if you have a question about any aspect of the shipping container industry Jane will likely have the answer for you. After many years working for some of the biggest names in the shipping container industry Jane set up her own company, Billie Box Ltd in 2012. Since launching in 2012 Billie Box Ltd has sold well over 1500 new and used containers.

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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