Shipping is a global industry that has influenced our society since ancient times… but that most people give little thought to. It hardly seems fair to take it for granted, though, given the indispensable role it plays in our lives.

Shipping is huge. It is global. It is essential. It is… green? (Maybe.) Herewith, a compilation of facts about the industry.

1. It’s enduring

Shipping is one of the oldest industries in the world. It began thousands of years ago with seafarers trading simple items from various ports of call when they crossed paths. Today, it remains the leading form of transportation for all manner of goods.

2. The biggest ships are BIG

The largest container ships are 400 metres long and can carry up to 20,000 containers. There are nearly 100 ships of this size and, wanting to take advantage of economies of scale, shippers are continually seeking to upsize even further.

3. It’s ever-present

90% of the world’s commodities are carried on ships. And several million containers are traveling across the oceans at any given time.

4. It’s plentiful

There are approximately 55,000 merchant ships – tankers, passenger ships, container ships, fishing vessels, bulk carriers and general cargo ships – plying the seas.

5. It’s a major employer

About 1.5 million people are employed by the shipping industry. Workers from the Philippines account for one third of them. Only 2% are female.

6. It’s economical

It’s thanks to container shipping that you can buy $5 t-shirts at the mall. Container ships are the most efficient way to move goods, any way you slice it.

In fact, it’s still one of the most affordable ways to transport cargo.

For example, it’s cheaper for Scottish cod to be shipped to China (10,000 miles away) and filleted and returned to Scotland than it is to pay Scottish workers to do the same job.

7. A Container Ship Travels Long Distances

The average container ship travels the equivalent of 75% of the way to the moon and back in a single year, during its regular travel across the oceans. In its lifetime, a large container ship travels the distance of the moon and back about ten times

8. Shipping is Safe

Shipping is still the safest form of commercial transport. As a matter of fact, it was one of the first industries to adopt widely implemented international safety standards (in the 19th century). Shipping safety is regulated by the International Maritime Organization and the International Labour Organization.

9. Ship Crews have Communication Challenges

Roughly two-thirds of ship crews around the world do not have any means of communication while on the open sea. Moreover, only 10% have any kind of internet access.

10. There are Six Types of World Merchant Fleet Ships

Most countries across the world possess and operate merchant ships. At present, the Greek merchant fleet is the largest in the world, and accounts for over 16% of the world’s total tonnage.

The six types of merchant fleet ships include:

  • General cargo ships
  • Bulk carriers
  • Fishing vessels
  • Container ships
  • Passenger ships
  • Tankers


The shipping industry may be one of the oldest in the world, but the global economy would not exist without shipping containers. This underscores the notion that it is still one of the most important industries there is. There’s a lot involved in keeping your goods moving from door to door and around the world.