The large metal box that brought about a shipping revolution
Can you imagine the time before goods were shipped by containers? If you are older than 50 you probably can, as containers were developed to a standard international size in the late 1960s.
We take these simple, uniform metal boxes for granted. But they brought about a revolution in the efficiency and volume of goods that could be carried interchangeably by sea, by rail and on the backs of lorries. Goods no longer had to be unloaded and unpacked at the port and repackaged for transport over land. Sealed when filled, containers are also much easier to process through customs.
Almost anything can be transported by container and about 90% of the world’s non-bulk cargo is (bulk cargo being raw materials like coal, oil and gas).
Shipping is by far the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly way of transporting cargo around the world. The scale of world shipping in our globalised economy is huge. So, too are the container ships. More than 600 million container loads were shipped in 2012 alone. In 2010, they carried £3.7 trillion worth of goods.
Although a quarter of all containers originate in China, one of the busiest shipping lanes is the English Channel. The Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk is the UK’s busiest container port. Almost 4 million containers enter and exit Britain through Felixstowe every year. It handles over 40% of the UK’s entire import and export trade and needs 2,500 employees to manage the 3,000 ships each year that carry the cargo.