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.    

Barges: Much More than Cargo Carriers

When people hear the word “barge,” they usually think of a cargo carrier, lazily snaking its way down a river.

However, barges are used for much more than hauling freight. Today, these vessels have been transformed into restaurants and even homes!

The History of Barges

By strict definition, a barge is simply a flat-bottomed boat. Barges can either be self-propelled or need to be pushed/pulled by another type of boat. When small barges are on shallower waterways, the crew can help navigate and guide the ship with long poles.  

Barges have a history dating back to ancient times. For the Egyptians, the Nile River served as a major highway. In many sections, the river was too wide for a bridge. Barges were necessary for both transportation and to carry goods. Archaeologists made an exciting discovery when they found a sunken barge off Egypt’s coast in 2000. The ancient barge was right around 90 feet long and is over 2,500 years old! Now dubbed “Ship 17,” the barge was likely involved in trade with Greece and Persia. The vessel would have carried imported and exported goods between the countries. 

Before the Industrial Revolution took hold in the U.S., barges were a necessary way to transport cargo. Barges are perfect for carrying large and heavy items. While travel on a barge is economical, it is also limited to locations where rivers flow. As railways and roads began crisscrossing the country, barges fell out of common use. Trains and vehicles provided more direct options for transporting cargo.  

Barges Today 

While barges may not be as popular as they once were, they are still very much in use. The Calumet River spans from Illinois to Indiana. This vital waterway connects Chicago to Gary, Indiana and barges still carry cargo between the two cities. Tugboat and towboat crews help barges on the Calumet River move along and get to their destination.

Because the Mississippi River spans the entire length of the U.S., it’s also still a vital barge transportation route. On the Mighty Mississippi, as many as 15 barges can be cabled together in what is called a “tow.” A tow of barges is about the size of three football fields! Gravel, salt, cement, and grains are just a few of the items transported by barges on the Mississippi. 

Barges in the City of Lights

Paris, France just might be the world headquarters for repurposed barges! This capital city is home to hundreds of barges that have been converted into everything from houseboats to cafes.

In Paris, rent for an apartment is sky high and real estate is at a premium. People who are looking to live in the city have become creative with housing. It’s not unheard of for barges to be converted into homes. Not only is the price right, but the scenery is beautiful. Word has spread about this more affordable living option. Due to the popularity of houseboats, it’s often difficult to find a mooring to rent. For those lucky enough to have a place to dock, living on the Seine is surely an unmatched experience.

In addition to houseboats, several Parisian restaurants now occupy barges. The upscale Cafe Barge Restaurant is just one such restaurant, located near Notre Dame Cathedral. What could be more quaint than enjoying a glass of wine and French cuisine while floating on the Seine? But these barge restaurants are a popular attraction, so if you’re visiting Paris, it’s best to make reservations so you don’t miss out.

The flexibility and adaptability of barges have helped them stand the test of time. The odds are good that wherever you live, you don’t have to go far to see a barge in action!