18 Fascinating Facts about the Maritime Industry

18 Fascinating Facts about the Maritime Industry

We know that the maritime industry is responsible for 90% of the world’s transportation. You know that too. But this percentage made headlines mainly thanks to Ninety Percent of Everything, a book written by British journalist, Rose George.

The book aimed to explain the magnitude of the maritime industry to those not working in, or knowledgeable about, the sector.

In fact, it would seem that this 90% was and is a source of amazement to outsiders, so we thought we’d put together a few more fast facts that you can use to blow the minds of non-maritime industry friends next time anyone asks you: “What exactly it is you do again?!”

a cargo ship on a turquoise ocean

18 fascinating facts about the maritime industry

  1. If all the containers on a 11,000 TEU ship were loaded end to end on a train, the train would have to be around 48 miles or approximately 77 kilometers long. (And for anyone who doesn't know what TEU means, it stands for Twenty Equipment Unit - a term which is used to refer to one 20-foot container. TEU is a measurement which is used to work out the capacity of a vessel.)
  2. And talking of capacity, did you know that the bigger container ships have the room to carry several large warehouses worth of goods? That's a whole lot of product!
  3. In one year the average container ship travels the equivalent of three-quarters - or 75% - of the way to the moon and back. Add up all the trips a ship makes across the oceans in its lifetime and the distance works out to around ten return trips to the moon. Neil Armstrong had nothing on the average seafarer!
ray of golden light arcing into the early night sky

4. Large cargo ships' engines expend approximately 1,000 times more power than the regular family car. But bear in mind that vessels of this nature only travel at an average of 23 knots (or 26.5 miles per hour to your non-seafaring friends)  in perfect weather conditions.

5. Globally, there are around a staggering 55,000 cargo ships on the oceans at any one time. How many containers are they carrying between them? Oh just around 20 million or so!

6. Japan (3,962 vessels), Greece (3,032 vessels) and Germany (2,321 vessels) are the proud owners of the three largest fleets in the world. That’s based on the total DWT that is controlled by parent companies located in those countries. (DWT stands for deadweight tonnage - which is a way of measuring the total contents of a vessel including the cargo, fuel, crew, any passengers, and food and water.)

container ship sailing out of a harbor

7. Here’s one that probably won’t surprise you: almost every nationality on the face of the planet has someone crewing on a ship. Let’s break that down a little further: there are approximately 1.5 million seafarers working in the shipping industry worldwide. 98% of those are male and only 2% are female. Filipinos make up a third of all crews with almost a quarter of a million people at sea. Therefore, the average crew member is a male Filipino.

8. And those seafarers may be working in an extremely valuable environment! That's because it can cost in excess of $200 million to build some of the bigger vessels.

9. Shipping is a big deal. You know that...but did you know that in the UK, the industry accounts for more GDP (Gross Domestic Product) than civil engineering, restaurants and takeaway food (fish and chips anyone?!) combined.

fish and chips in takeaway container

10. Three cheers for shipping: it’s still the safest way of transporting commercial goods. And we can be even prouder of ourselves than we are anyway as the maritime industry was one of the first to implement international safety standards way back in the 19th century.

11. Cargo ships are still one of the most affordable ways to transport goods. Here’s another mind boggling fact: It’s actually cheaper for Scottish cod fish to be shipped to China for filleting and then returned to Scotland than it is to pay Scottish staff to do the same job. We’re not going to comment on what that says about wage rates in Scotland versus China but it certainly shows how economically viable shipping is as a form of transport.

12. Globally speaking, approximately two-thirds of crews on ships have no way of communicating with the outside world, in other words their friends and family, while they are onboard a ship. Internet is a highly prized commodity onboard amongst regular crew and only around one in ten seafarers will have access to it. Polls and surveys conducted to find out more about what seafarers like and don't like about their job often find that the lack of internet is one of the biggest issues.

an iPad and iPhone with blank screens

13. Think it takes a crew of hundreds to operate a container ship? Not any more it doesn't. Even large cargo and container ships can be run by crews of just twelve or thirteen people. This is due to the rapid automation of vessels, which utilize ever more increasingly sophisticated computer systems and other technology. Gone are the days of sailors using paper maps and the stars to navigate. (Much to the dismay of some older seafarers!)

14. And talking of modern shipping, self-driving, remotely controlled and autonomous container ships are now a reality. A number of nations are now researching and trialing the feasibility of new ship designs and autonomous transportation, including Japan, China, the USA, Norway, Singapore and Finland.

15. So what's the difference between a remotely controlled and an autonomous ship? An autonomous ship is fitted with state-of-the-art support systems that are able to make independent operational decisions on their own and without the need for a human controller. Meanwhile a remotely controlled vessel IS operated by a human, but one who will usually be positioned at a land-based virtual bridge.

silhouette of a vessel at sunset

16. And whether ship's are autonomous or have crew, because the maritime industry is worldwide, the safety of vessels and other related aspects are regulated by a number of different United Nations agencies. Probably the best known of these agencies is the International Maritime Organization (IMO) which has created developed a structured system of maritime safety regulations which must be adhered to by shipping companies across the globe.

17. There is more to the global merchant fleet than cargo and container ships. Merchant vessels fall under a number of different categories: General cargo ships, fishing vessels, container ships, bulk carriers, passenger ships, and tankers (such as oil tankers and chemical tankers.)

18. Finally, shipping is not only the biggest method of transportation - it’s also the greenest. That’s because if you compare the energy that is needed to move cargo by truck or plane, shipping releases far fewer harmful greenhouse gases. In fact, as Rose George explains in her book, if you send a container from Shanghai in China to Le Havre in France (that’s 11,743 nautical miles), it will emit fewer greenhouse gases than the truck that then takes that container onto Lyon - a total of 514 miles.

container ship being pulled by tug on blue sea near port

We hope you’ve found some of these cargo ships facts interesting and whether or not you’ve heard any of them before, we’re sure you’ll agree they’re definitely food for thought.

These facts have been gathered from various sources, including from George's book. They were accurate at the time of its writing but may have changed slightly now. However, it all goes to show what a crucial part of daily life cargo ships and shipping companies are - and ones that the majority of people don’t stop to think about.

How Martide can help your maritime recruitment drive

If you’re a small to medium sized shipowner or ship manager who’d like to know more about how Martide can help you streamline your maritime recruitment and crew planning processes while making operations even more economically viable, get in touch with us today.

hand holding up a sign that says 'contact us'

We'd love to tell you more about how we can help you source qualified seafarers, how we give you access to a global network of audited manning agents and how we make life easier and less stressful all round!

This blog post was originally published on July 21st 2019 and updated to include even more fascinating shipping facts on May 31st 2022.

Eve Jones

Eve Jones

I am a content writer at Martide, helping to keep you up-to-date on all things maritime recruitment and shipping industry related through our regular blog posts.