Do you ever take a look at your clothing label or pocketbook or toy and notice that there is a little label that says "Made in China". For most of us, we probably don't think any further than, "thought so", or perhaps a few of us are upset that it doesn't say "Made in USA", but I wonder how many people ever say to themselves, "isn't China far away?" Yes, it is. Shanghai, China to Los Angeles is approximately 6,500 miles so those goods have a very long way to travel to us.
Container ships came into existence in 1956 but they were slow to take root. It wasn't until the Vietnam War that container cargo began their breakthrough. A test was conducted in transporting ammunition in containers instead of break-bulk (e.g. boxes, crates, drums, barrels, or pallets) in 1970. Upon arrival in Vietnam it was determined that (globalsecurity.org):
1. Vessel turnaround was improved by 500%
2. Manpower efficiency was improved by 600%
3. Number of handlings was reduced from a possible eight to two.
4. Ammunition was in better condition on delivery.
Soon thereafter a steering group was created in the Department of Defense to coordinate container development with commercial container systems.
China exports most of their goods via container ships. Container ships consist of 20 foot container boxes with typical dimensions of 20 feet in length, 8 feet in width, and the most common height is 8 feet 6 inches. Each one of these containers is considered a twenty-foot equivalent unit or TEU. Modern state-of-the-art cargo ships can handle 11,000 TEUs which is a staggering number. According to factsanddetails.com the average cost to transport a TEU from China to the USA is around $1,500.
Without these container ships the cost to ship the quantity of goods from China to the USA would be prohibitive because you need a great deal of capacity in order for the economies of skill to filter thru. These container ships are incredibly efficient, relatively fast, and an effective means for China to sell its exports and consequently it becomes quite beneficial for both parties.
I am amazed that these massive ships are able to navigate the ocean so well, because storms, tempests, and hurricanes are all part of our natural weather system. Not too surprisingly, back at the home base there are expert meteorologists who study in real time any approaching storms or other disturbances and then advise the ship captain of avoidance routes or other options that are most pertinent. Without this necessary feedback the captain's job and safety record would be significantly more problematic.
Despite the awesome size of these ships, the crew to handle them is surprisingly small. In most cases for these container ships, the crew will not exceed 25 people in which their responsibilities will include not only the successful navigating of the ship, but any routine maintenance, staggered hours of duty, paperwork, and often times numerous ports of call. As a reference point, the Al Miqab, one of the 10 largest yachts in the world, has a crew of 60.
The value of container ships may seem obvious to us now, but that wasn't always the case.