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Container shipping is one of the world’s most critical and efficient forms of transportation. It allows businesses to move large quantities of goods quickly and cheaply between countries and has played a significant role in the globalization of trade.
Here’s everything you need to know about the container shipping industry and its role in international trade.

What is Container Shipping, and What Are the Benefits of Using it?

Container shipping is a method of transporting goods using intermodal containers. Shipping companies can use these specialized containers across multiple modes of transport (e.g., sea to road freight) without repacking.

The first company to use intermodal containers for shipping ocean freight was Sea-Land Service in 1956. This company was founded by trucking entrepreneur Malcom McLean, who discovered that using large, truck trailer-sized containers for shipping cargo was a faster and more cost-effective cargo shipping method.

With this development, the modern container shipping industry was born. It replaced traditional cargo transportation methods, such as crate and parcel shipping, which had to be individually loaded and unloaded from cargo ships.

Today’s international shipping companies employ modern technologies to track the location of their containers (e.g., GPS trackers). These technological benefits have helped make container shipping and inventory control safer, making it an excellent solution for high-value ocean freight.

As of July 2022, the largest shipping company is the Mediterranean Shipping Company, operating a container ship fleet comprising 687 vessels and controlling over 17% of the industry market share.

Other top container liners include the following companies and market share percentages:

  • A.P. Moller-Maersk Group (16.6%)
  • CMA CGM Group (12.8%)
  • China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO Group) (11.3%)
  • Hapag-Lloyd (6.8%)
  • Evergreen Marine Corporation (6.1%)
  • Ocean Network Express (5.9%)
  • Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation (2.6%)

There are a few things to remember when choosing container shipping, such as the type of container you need and the size of your shipment. You will also need to choose a reputable, experienced, international container shipping company to ensure that your goods arrive safely and on time.

How to Ship Cargo Overseas via Container

Although shipping cargo overseas can be a complex and costly process, there are ways to make it more efficient.

One of the first things to consider is the type of shipping container you will use. A wide range of container sizes and types is available, so it’s essential to choose one that is the right size for your cargo.

You will also need to choose a shipping line with experience shipping to your destination country. Once you have all the required paperwork in order, you can load your cargo into the container and book your shipment. Some of the most common documents needed include the following:

  • Bills of Lading
  • Freight shipping forms
  • Commercial invoices
  • Certificates of Origin

Remember that cargo shipped via container liner can take several weeks to arrive, so plan accordingly.

Shipping & Logistics

Container shipping is a vital part of the global economy, responsible for moving millions of tons of goods annually. Each region around the world has carrier ships constantly traveling through their seas.

Some of the most frequently traveled regions include the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal, the Strait of Gibraltar, the English Channel, and the Strait of Malacca. Major trade routes include East Asia-North America, East Asia-Europe, United Kingdom-France, Intra-Asia, and United States-Canada.

The two most common shipping container types are the 20-foot and 40-foot containers. Cargo ship capacity is measured in TEUs (twenty-foot container equivalent units).

For example, a cargo-carrying capacity of 18,000 TEUs means the vessel can carry up to the equivalent of 18,000 twenty-foot containers. Some container ships, such as Evergreen Marine’s Ever Alot (the biggest container ship in the world as of July 2022), are part of a new class of Very Large Container Ships (VLCS) capable of carrying an astonishing 24,000 TEUs.

Container liners and shipping companies must carefully plan their routes to maximize speed and efficiency, as any delay can increase the delivery time by several days.
The most common causes of delays in container ship logistics include bad weather, mechanical failures, container port congestion, and security concerns such as piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

Shifting global sociopolitical landscapes and health issues (like the recent pandemic) can also dramatically impact shipping delivery times and container prices. The steep increase in COVID-19 cases saw container prices skyrocket due to congested ports and a decrease in container manufacturing.

Even after COVID-19 cases declined, the subsequent economic crisis had a long-lasting impact on the ocean shipping industry, leading to port closures across major maritime supply chains in China and Europe.

Cost of Shipping Containers

Shipping a container overseas can be a significant expense. Depending on the destination, the type of cargo, and the shipping company you use, container shipping rates can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

The load size is the most critical factor in determining the cost of shipping a container. For instance, a 40-foot container has an internal usable capacity of approximately 67.7 m³ (2,390 ft³), allowing it to carry a cargo payload of up to 27,600 kg (about 60,847 lbs.). Consequently, it is critical to determine the volume and weight of your shipment before shopping for quotes.

Major carriers typically charge by the container load, while a common carrier may charge by the pound or cubic foot. Each international shipping company will charge different rates and prices for container shipping, depending on the cargo type, size, weight, and distance between the origin and destination ports.

Locations of Shipment

Commercial ports can be found in almost every corner of the world. However, some ports are better suited to container shipping than others. International ports are often located in sheltered coastal areas, which makes them ideal for large ships.


East Asia is home to the largest number of high-volume container ports. Many of the top 20 busiest container ports are located in China, such as Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou. Other major East Asian ports include Busan (South Korea), Yokohama (Japan), Taoyuan City (Taiwan), Singapore, and Hong Kong.

North America also has several major container ports, including Los Angeles and Long Beach in the United States. These American ports are located in strategic positions that make them ideal for handling large volumes of cargo.

Central America is home to the Panama Canal, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, critical for facilitating worldwide trade. Some of the world’s largest container ships are defined by size class and whether they can cross the Panama Canal (e.g., Panamax and Post-Panamax size classes).

Latin America is home to some of the world’s largest trading partners, and South Korea is a leading exporter of containerized cargo. As a result, the two regions heavily depend on container shipping to move goods between them.

Popular International Shipping Services

Some of the largest shipping companies use ocean carriers. These are the leading ocean freight transportation service providers in the global market. Major ocean carrier shipping services include containerized, break bulk, and Roll-on/Roll-off (RORO) operations.

These account for a large share of the total number of containers handled at container terminals worldwide.

Ocean carriers offer their customers a wide range of shipping services, including reefer containers, dangerous goods, out-of-gauge, and oversize cargo transportation.

Containerized shipping is the most popular type of international cargo shipping. According to the OECD, 90% of worldwide cargo is transported by sea on container ships.

Reefer containers are used to transport perishable goods that require controlled temperature conditions during transit. Dangerous goods vessels carry dangerous goods or hazardous materials that must be segregated from other types of cargo during transit.

Out-of-gauge (OOG) shipments are oversized or overweight shipments that require special handling and lifting equipment. Oversize shipments are typically longer, wider, or taller than standard container dimensions.

Are There any Risks with Container Shipping?

Major shipping companies operate a large number of bulk carriers to transport their cargo around the world. These vessels are designed to carry large volumes of freight and are capable of traveling long distances.

However, there are some risks associated with container shipping. Major shipping companies must follow strict safety standards and procedures to minimize the risk of accidents.

Container shipping and maritime freight have a significant global environmental impact, responsible for up to 3% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Companies such as TOWT offer reduced emissions sailing container ships to reduce the industry’s environmental footprint.

Bulk carrier vessels are also subject to regular inspections and maintenance. As a result, the risks associated with container shipping are generally low.

The benefits of container shipping far outweigh the risks. Container shipping is a fast and efficient way to transport large volumes of cargo globally. It is also a relatively safe and reliable form of transportation.

Major shipping companies have implemented strict safety standards and procedures to minimize the risk of accidents. For instance, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has developed standards and support networks to help governments and shipping companies improve maritime security.

One of the most crucial maritime security treaties is the SOLAS Convention (Safety of Life at Sea), which defines minimum safety standards for merchant vessels, including container ships.

Bulk carrier vessels are also subject to regular inspections and maintenance. As a result, the risks associated with container shipping are generally low.

Asiana USA Helps You Ship International Cargo Safely and Efficiently

Container shipping is an excellent option for businesses that want to move large shipments overseas. Asiana USA can help your business with all your container shipping needs, from finding the right container to packing and shipping your goods.
We have a team of professionals to help you every step of the way. Call us at (855) 500-1808 for assistance or to request a free quote.



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