Container Shipping

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The arrival of air travel and the impact of the containerisation revolution on the nature of shipping rendered the ocean liner obsolete in the 1960s and 70s. Air travel replaced their scheduled passenger voyages, while container ships fundamentally changed the nature of the shipping industry and replaced the cargo operations associated with ocean liners. As a result the ocean liners had to adapt or disappear forever and they evolved into full time cruise liners and thus was born the modern cruise industry.

Like many 20th century innovations, containers were born out of a sense of urgency. First used by the U.S. government during the war, they proved the ideal means of quickly and efficiently unloading and distributing supplies, which was of paramount importance at the time. Instead of shipping commodities in bulk, army and navy specialists began to mix cargo by loading freight onto pallets, then loading the pallets into specially constructed "boxes". For the private sector, containers held the promise of secure, dry storage of cargo and controlled climates and added shelf life for perishables. Yet, despite favourable reports about the use of containers, the concept of containerisation seemed far-fetched to all but the most forward-thinking in the early 1950s. For the container to succeed, ships would have to be modified. Likewise, ports and inland transport systems around the world would have to be upgraded to meet a new standard. Industry leaders, as well as customers, were sceptical. Before this advance, cargo was literally manhandled. Cranes with slings unloaded crates onto pallets. Dockers then muscled the crates into place, and forklifts moved the pallets to warehouses. Damage and delays were common. Containerisation changed all that forever.

American President Lines was an early pioneer and soon saw the tremendous potential for the efficiency afforded by this basic tool of trade. In addition, APL was a leader in the research and development of controlled temperature containers. These "reefers" now make it possible to transport goods like climate-sensitive film and perishable seafood all over the world. Today the containerisation revolution has taken over the world and is the dominant form of ocean transport.

In 1965 Atlantic Container Line (ACL) was formed as a container shipping consortium with the partners being Cunard Line, CGT French Line, Holland America Line, Swedish American Line, Transatlantic Redereii and Wallenius Lines.

Atlantic Container Line (ACL) was designed to serve the trade between Europe and East Coast of North America. The Atlantic Span, was the first of ACL's four G-1 (first generation) container vessels. These 700 TEU Roll-on/Roll-off (RORO) container ships were the most unique in the world and dramatically change the concept of transport. From 1969 to 1970 with the introduction of the first computerized intermodal transport system "Route Code," ACL offers shippers a door-to-door service that continuously updates through-transport tariffs for repeat shipments. Six, 900 TEU, G-2 (second generation) RORO/Containerships are added to ACL's fleet, increasing it to ten vessels. ACL became the only ocean carrier to handle both containerized and uncontainerized cargo with multiple sailings each week to/from every major port in Europe. From 1971-73 ACL introduced its simplified alternative to the bill of lading, "Datafreight Receipt," the first electronically transmitted documentation system. Providing customers with added-value inland transport services in North America, ACL forms a wholly owned trucking company for improved short haul trucking capabilities and its own container and chassis maintenance and repair operation. From 1975-78 ACL pioneers SPEED (Europe) and COMPASS (North America), the first "real time" computer system in the transportation industry. Also the G-1 vessels are lengthened, increasing capacity to 1100 TEUs and ACL introduces a direct service to the Canadian ports of Montreal and Halifax. In 1984/5 ACL introduces five, newly constructed ACL G-3 (third generation) RORO/Containerships, the largest of their kind in the world (2160 TEUs), on the North Atlantic service. The G-3s are fuel efficient and highly flexible for a wide mix of cargoes. Meanwhile the older G-2 vessels are phased out and scrapped. In 1986/7 as part of an overall rationalization program on the North Atlantic, ACL enters a space sharing and charter agreement with Hapag-Lloyd. Focusing on long-term corporate strategies and successful growth, ACL restructures its US operations. Also a subsidiary is formed to operate ACL's non-shipping sector in trucking, maintenance & repair, container storage, liner agency and stevedoring services. At this time the G-3 vessels are lengthened (G-3L) to 292 meters increasing capacity to 3,100 TEUs and the older G-1 vessels are phased out and scrapped. In 1990 the original owning consortium is dissolved and Transatlantic, a member of the Bilspedition Group, acquires 100% ownership of Atlantic Container Line.

In the 1990s ACL streamlines its operations, concentrating solely on its core North Atlantic market. Support services (trucking, stevedoring and M&R) and support functions (documentation, EDP, accounting and logistics) in the US and Canada are outsourced. Slot exchanges with other container lines increase weekly sailings between North America and Europe. In 1995 ACL modifies schedules to improve transit times and reliability. ACL also purchases Atlantic Conveyor from Cunard. Finally the Atlantic Compass becomes the first oceangoing cargo vessel to be certified by the Swedish National Maritime Administration under the ISM Code (International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention). In 1996 ACL acquires full ownership of its fleet and prepares for the internet revolution with the launch of its website and in 1997 ACL celebrates its 30th Anniversary having launched container shipping services in 1967.

In 2000 Grimaldi Group, Naples becomes the largest ACL shareholder with 44%. All 5 vessels completed dry-docking in Brest. Additional new service increases ACL's portfolio to 7 weekly transatlantic sailings. ACL sold their stake of 49.5% in Columbus Intermodal Joint Venture. In 2001 ACL started a new, weekly Container/RORO transshipment service from North America to West Africa. The Grimaldi Group's shareholding exceeded the 45% threshold and launched a mandatory bid for all the outstanding shares at NOK 97 per share, then increased its stake in ACL to 81%, and then to 91%. ACL started a new, weekly RORO transshipment service between North America and the Mediterranean. In 2002 ACL is delisted from the Oslo Stock Exchange where it had been since 1994. In 2007 ACL becomes a wholly owned unit of The Grimaldi Group and at the same time ACL celebrates 40 years of service.

Atlantic Container Line (ACL)

In 1966 Overseas Containers Ltd (OCL) was formed as a container shipping consortium with the partners being British & Commonwealth Shipping Group,  the Alfred Holt Group (parent company of Blue Funnel, Glen Line and Elder Dempster), P&O Group and the Furness Withy Group. The new container shipping company, Overseas Containers Ltd (OCL), was one of the British pioneers of container shipping.

Overseas Containers Ltd (OCL) was the largest British container consortium and was formed in 1966 by British and Commonwealth Shipping Group, Furness Withy Group, Ocean Transport and Trading Ltd (Alfred Holt Group) and the P&O Group. The aim of the consortium was to develop and operate container services on those trade routes in which its partners operated, with the intention of preserving a major British interest in these trades. The United Kingdom/Australia trade was the first to be containerised in 1969 and this was followed by the Far East trade. These will soon be followed by the containerisation of the New Zealand trade and the United Kingdom/Europe/South African trade as well as three trades in the Pacific basin.  In 1986 all the partners were bought out by P&O Group and the operation was renamed P&O Containers Ltd. In 1996 this was merged with Nedlloyd Line and formed P&O Nedlloyd. This was later transformed into a stand alone company as Royal P&O Nedlloyd and finally in 2005 was bought entirely by the A.P. Moller-Maersk Group and merged with Maersk Sealand to form Maersk Line.

In 1968 Associated Container Transportation (ACT) was formed as a container shipping consortium with the partners being Ellerman Group, Blue Star Line, Ben Line, Harrison Lines and Cunard (Port Line).

Associated Container Transportation (ACT) received their first new container ship - the ACT 1 - in 1968. The Europe to Australasia services started in October 1969 as part of the AECS (Australia Europe container service) in collaboration with the consortium Overseas Containers Ltd and shipping companies such as Australian National Line out of Melbourne and they were pioneers in reefer container ships with refrigerated containers for the lucractive meat trade out of Australia. Associated Container Transportation (ACT) left AECS in mid 1972 jointly with the Australian National Line in order to create their own service.  In May 1977 after the delivery of the Australian Venture series of container ship, both companies once again joined the AECS service between Australia / New Zealand and Europe. New Zealand was also included from 1978/79 and thus it became the ANZECS (Australia New Zealand Express container service). ACT was discontinued as a company in 1991 and all its ships were sold or transferred. ACT 1, ACT 2 and ACT 7 were sold to P&O Containers Ltd and renamed Discovery Bay, Moreton Bay and Palliser Bay respectively. ACT 3, ACT 4, ACT 5, ACT 6 and ACT 10 were sold to Blue Star Line.  In 1998 Blue Star Line was acquired by P&O Group and these ships continued to sail under P&O but retaining their Blue Star livery. In 2003 the America Star which was the last of these in service was retired and sold for scrap. Thus ending the traditions and legacy of Blue Star Line and ACT.

By the late 1960s and into the 1970s most of the major shipping companies had embraced the containerisation revolution.

In the 1980s the concept of intermodalism was developed. this expansion on the concept of containerisation would not only bring the transport industry into the present, but would also greatly facilitate future growth.

Many consumers are aware that the products they purchase come from other parts of the world, but few realize the role that intermodalism - the seamless movement of containerised goods using different modes of transport like ships, trains, and trucks - plays in the availability of just about everything from jeans to personal computers. It is thought that the impact of intermodalism on the global economy has been greater than that of the U.S. space programme of the 1960s. In just 15 years, intermodalism has had a tremendous impact. In earlier eras, the movement of cargo was a slow, often-delayed process.

Today, the world's vast intermodal network supports an environment in which shipments are in almost perpetual motion. The result has been a significant increase in the volume of shipments moving through this efficient system and a world-wide rise in commercial activity. Today's huge container ships are loaded and discharged at state-of-the-art terminals, where thousands of containers of valuable commodities are then efficiently transferred to dockside trains that carry them to myriad inland destinations and ultimately to today's consumers. The containerisation revolution therefore has reached the road haulage and rail industries and the result is intermodal transport via a seamless worldwide network. In a sense, the revolution in cargo handling that began in the 1950s with the advent of the container has come full circle. A simple idea has grown into the complex, worldwide intermodal network delivers the many products we all use nearly every day.

Globalisation is changing the world. Business is now operating on a completely new global scale and this is leading to consolidation in many industries whereby fewer, larger companies take an increasing share of global business. Many industries and market sectors are affected by globalisation including transport, logistics, cruising, holidays & tourism, retail, manufacturing etc. This consolidation on a global scale is resulting in larger assets such as container ships and aircraft. For example giant container ships are increasingly become the standard used on world trade routes. Then in aviation there is the development of giant aircraft such as the Airbus A380. Logistics activities are becoming centred and clustered around key hubs. Global transport and logistic companies located at these hubs are increasingly aiming to provide a seamless intermodal integrated service linking sea, air, rail, road and inland waterways. To the customer it is one service.

In today's globalised and fast paced world of international trade, business is defined and redefined every second via the revolution that is the internet and information technology. This high speed information exchange is in part responsible for today's growth of international trade. If the basic, yet powerful concept of connecting people and products via the physical movement of goods is the hardware of the shipping business, information is the software that makes it run. And it’s the ability to combine assets and ideas - hardware and software - to meet each customer’s transport goals that enables a company to move beyond its history to prosper in the future. The embracing of information technology by container shipping lines is the final element in the containerisation revolution. As a result customers in today's internet age can now access up-to-the-minute information on websites. Make no mistake, customers are using this information as never before. They print bills of lading, trace shipments, and get information in real time via today's IT technology. Thus many container shipping companies today provide customers around the world with container transport services through a network combining high quality intermodal operations with state of the art information technology. By combining world-class seamless intermodal operations with leading-edge IT and e-commerce capabilities, container shipping companies provide their customers with the full range of transport solutions, including seamless door-to-door services.

Thus containerisation is a global system of intermodal cargo transport using standardised containers, which can be loaded and sealed intact onto container ships, railroad cars, planes and trucks. Prior to the introduction of containerisation, cargo handling for sea transportation was both time consuming and expensive. Containers have changed that fundamentally. Transport is now safer and more affordable than ever before.

World trade would not be the same without the modern container, invented in 1956. Today, it carries more than 90 percent of all goods in world trade. Every commodity and type of goods can be loaded and carried in ‘the box’, as the container is often referred to. As a result, modern container shipping has changed the way we transport goods around the world and has played a key role in globalisation. Today one of the main ways of moving freight is by containers. Container or "lift-on lift-off" (lo-lo) services is the transport of containerised freight, which is loaded and unloaded at gateway terminals by cranes onto container ships and transported by sea. Container freight is carried either by deep sea services calling directly at a destination port from the port of origin, or on short sea feeder services carrying goods from a hub transhipment port elsewhere.

Container freight transport or containerisation is the movement of goods in standardised shipping containers that are loaded onto container ships, road trucks and rail wagons.

Dedicated container ships were first introduced in the late 1960s when the container shipping and ports industry realised the vast potential of the container transport method. Huge investment was made into vessels, container terminals and onward haulage methods which continues today. As standards in container size and fixings were adopted, containerisation enabled a revolution in freight shipping transport.

The container freight market has undergone rapid growth and significant changes in recent years. Transporting goods by container has now become an increasingly inexpensive method of moving freight. Currently the growth of China as an economic power has significantly influenced the growth of container shipping in recent years especially with its significant exports to Europe and the USA. As a result the major world container shipping routes (according to 2006 figures) are:

1. Within the Far East.

2. The Far East to North America

3. The Far East to North West Europe

4. The Far East to the Persian Gulf & the Indian Sub Continent

5. North West Europe to North America

Also in tandem with the growth of container shipping, there has been a consolidation internationally of container terminal operators. As a result more container terminals in ports around the world are operated by fewer operators.


Today the shipbuilders of container ships and general purpose ships are dominated by a few key shipbuilders mostly from Korea, Japan and China in these emerging economies due to their lower costs.

South Korea:

Hyundai Heavy Industries Group

Samsung Heavy Industries

Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering

STX Shipbuilding

Hanjin Heavy Industries


Mitsubishi Heavy Industries

Hitachi Zosen Corporation

Kawasaki Heavy Industries

Sumitomo Heavy Industries


China State Shipbuilding Corporation

China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation


Today the major world container terminal port operators are (according to 2008 figures):

1.     Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH)

2.     PSA International

3.     APM Terminals

4.     DP World

5.     China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company (COSCO)


Currently in the UK the major container ports by throughput (TEU) are:

1.     Felixstowe (HPH)

2.     DP World Southampton

3.     London (Tilbury)

4.     Liverpool (Peel Ports)

5.     Medway (London Thamesport) (HPH)


Currently Europe's major container ports by throughput (TEU) are:

1.     Rotterdam, The Netherlands

2.     Hamburg, Germany

3.     Antwerp, Belgium

4.     Bremen / Bremerhaven, Germany

5.    Algerciras, Spain


Currently North America's major container ports by throughput (TEU) are:

1.     Los Angeles, California, USA

2.     Long Beach, California, USA

3.     New York / New Jersey, USA

4.     Savannah, Georgia, USA

5.     Oakland, California, USA


Currently the Far East's major container ports by throughput (TEU) are:

1.     Singapore, Singapore

2.     Shanghai, China

3.     Hong Kong, China

4.     Shenzhen, China

5.     Busan, South Korea


Today as a result of consolidation and globalisation the container shipping industry, just like the container terminal port operators, is dominated by several major global players (according to 2008 figures):

1.     Maersk Line

2.     Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC)

3.     CMA-CGM Group

4.     Evergreen Line

5.     Hapag-Lloyd Group

6.     China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company (COSCO)

7.     American President Lines (APL)

8.      NYK Line (Nippon Yusen Kaisha) Group

9.      China Shipping Group

10.    Mitsui OSK Lines

Container Shipping Information Service (CSIS)


Swire Group

Borchard Group




Holland Maas Shipping





A.P. Moller-Maersk Group



Star Shipping


Containerships Group





Hapag-Lloyd Group

Hamburg Sud Group

Senator Lines

Deutsche Afrika Line (Rantzau Group)

OPDR Hamburg

MACS Shipping

Team Lines


Grimaldi Group


Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC)


Navigation Maritime Bulgaria


Inter Marine Container Lines (IMCL)


Contaz Group


Delta Shipping Lines


Matson Line

Atlantic Container Line (ACL)

Crowley Maritime Corporation

Horizon Lines

Troy Container Line

Westwood Shipping Lines


Companhia Libra de Navegacao (Libra)


Compania Sud-Americana de Vapores S.A. (CSAV)


Zim Lines


NYK Line (Nippon Yusen Kaisha) Group

Mitsui OSK Lines

K Line (Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha)


Neptune Orient Lines (NOL) Group

Pacific International Lines

Sea Consortium


Evergreen Group

Yang Ming Group

Wan Hai Lines


Hanjin Group

Hyundai Merchant Marine

Korea Marine Transport (KMTC) Line


China Shipping Group

China Ocean Shipping (COSCO) Group

China Changjiang National Shipping Corporation (CSC)

Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL)

Gold Star Line


Malaysia International Shipping Corporation (MISC Berhad)


Samudera Indonesia Group


Austral Asia Line


Sofrana Group


United Arab Shipping Company Limited (UASC)


Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL)


Shipping Corporation of India


FESCO Transport Group


Northern Shipping Company (NSC)

Novoship Group

        (c) The AJN Transport Britain Collection 2008                                                                                                                                                                                 A Edward Elliott