If you have ever purchased technology that was made in China or eaten food that was imported from another country, your products likely made part of the journey to your home on a freighter ship.
These large ships make the world smaller by carrying all sorts of goods all over the world. This makes it possible to use products that are made on the other side of the globe every day.
History of Freighter Ships
Freighter ships were essential to early trade, as they were the first means of transporting goods over long distances. Traders transported cargo down rivers and between seaports long before land travel over significant distances was possible. Early, smaller versions of today’s freighter ships have existed since at least the 14th century BC, and they formed the beginnings of trade routes that have evolved over thousands of years into the globalization that exists today.
Types of Freighter Ships
Freighter ships are divided into six main categories, which are determined by the type of cargo that they are used for. These categories include general cargo ships, tankers, container ships, dry bulk carriers, reefers, and multipurpose vessels. General cargo ships and reefers carry most types of household goods and food items, while the other categories are primarily used to transport oil, coal, and other natural resources.
While most freighter ships are owned and run by shipping lines, such as Horizon Lines and Houston Logistics Company, there are also smaller, privately-owned ships that are used for transporting goods.
Packing items correctly is a crucial aspect of enabling them to survive long trips on rough seas. With the exception of tankers, which transport liquids, most goods are shipped in large metal shipping containers. Depending on the size of the freighter ship, hundreds or thousands of shipping containers filled with goods are stacked on each ship. In some parts of the world that import far more goods than they export, such as remote towns north of the Arctic Circle, shipping containers are often repurposed as homes or other buildings, rather than sent back out of the country.
Working on Freighter Ships
Many sailors live and work on large freighter ships at any given time. These crew members perform a variety of tasks, such as steering the ship, cleaning and repairing the ship, watching for pirates, and loading and unloading cargo in ports. Routes are typically quite long and may circle the globe so these sailors often spend several months or longer at sea during each trip.
Passenger Freighter Ships
While freighter ships are primarily used for transporting material goods, it is possible for passengers to travel on some freighter ships. Much like the ocean liners of the Victorian era that were also used to transport mail across the ocean, certain freighter ships can have more than one purpose.
Freighter ships often visit different ports than traditional cruise ships, and they travel to countries that cruise lines rarely visit. While these ships offer passengers simple accommodations and little to do on board, they are an option for travelers who are interested in visiting places that are not typically marketed as tourist attractions. Freighter cruises also offer a quieter, more private option for travelers who are interested in simply spending time on the water, rather than participating in the activities typically found on cruise ships.
Although modern technology allows for many faster methods of shipping goods, such as trains and airplanes, freighter ships are still a vital aspect of global trade. Shipping goods across the globe on ships is often cheaper than using airplanes, and more cargo can typically be transported at once. While freighter ships are no longer the only method of trade available, global trade would be far less efficient if they were no longer used for large-scale transport.