Freighter Ships Make Global Trade Possible

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.

Shipping Containers

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.    

Longships: The Vessel of the Vikings

When you think of the Vikings, you might imagine warriors, adventurers, and horned helmets.

But how much do you know about their iconic mode of transportation, the longship?

Building a Longship

Longships, true to their name, ranged in length from 45 to 75 feet long. They were completely symmetrical, with both sides mirroring each other. This served to make the vessels much easier to maneuver, because it enabled them to reverse direction without turning the longship around. At top speed, longships could sail at about 17 knots, or roughly 20 miles per hour.

Archaeologists estimate that it would have taken 100 men approximately a year to build a single longship. These vessels became the true symbols of the Vikings, bringing them around the world on their explorations and raids. They were built using the “clinker” method, which involved overlapping planks of wood being nailed together. The spaces in between the planks were filled with tarred wool, hair, and moss, ensuring that the vessel remained watertight for its long journeys up and down the European coast and across the sea. 

Longships were built with a single sail in the center, and were sailed by a combination of wind power and rowing. Long and low to the ocean, the ships were incredibly sturdy and could be sailed even in shallow water. They generally had large, imposing wooden figureheads at their prow. Carved images of snakes and dragons were particularly popular, as the purpose of these figureheads was to strike fear into the hearts of anyone who saw them.

History of the Longship

This vessel became the quintessential mode of transport for the Vikings. “Viking” was actually the name given to sailors from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, and the Viking Age lasted from 700 to 1100 CE. Longships were used for over 1,500 years, and their primary goal was to carry warriors and bring Vikings to new lands to settle. In fact, it was this iconic ship that brought Norse Viking Leif Erikson to North America in the year 1000 CE, making him perhaps the first European to set foot in America. 

This tale has been passed down for centuries; reportedly, Erikson heard about another Viking having spotted the landmass of eastern North America, and decided to seek it out for himself. He set sail from Greenland in a longship, and when he explored the American coast for the first time he found grapes, leading the Vikings to call North America “Vinland,” which translates to “Wine Land.”

Longships provided no shelter, which makes it even more impressive that Vikings could make such long journeys on these small vessels. If they were out at sea on a longship, the crew would sleep on the deck underneath blankets made of animal skins. 

Viking Raids

When they weren’t sailing to new places, Viking warriors used the longship to raid coastal areas along the European coast. The size of the vessel made it perfect for this kind of attack. Because of its length, it could carry many warriors while still being relatively easy to sail. Its ability to sail in shallow water meant that the longship could quietly make its way inland along rivers and streams, enabling Viking warriors to attack settlements and monasteries without warning. 

While the Vikings didn’t see themselves as thieves, their reputation as raiders and warriors is one of the things that the world remembers most, even centuries after the end of the Viking Age. This is due in large part to the incredible success of Viking raids—and the success of the raids can be attributed to the powerful longships that the warriors built for themselves.