About The Industry

Industry Globalization

On 23 April 1966, ten years after the first converted container ship sailed, Sea-Land’s Fairland sailed from Port Elizabeth in the USA to Rotterdam in the Netherlands with 236 containers. This was the first international voyage of a container ship.

Meanwhile, during the rapid build-up to the Vietnam War, the US military was faced with the logistical problem of getting supplies to troops. It had somehow to transport mass supplies to a war zone in south-east Asia through a single under-developed port on the Saigon River and a partially-functioning railway. The government turned to container shipping as the most efficient option.

Container shipping began to prove its worth at an international level. From this point on the industry began to grow to the point where it would quickly become the backbone of global trade, even though few at the time would have made such bold predictions.

1968 and 1969 were the Baby Boomer years for container shipping. In 1968 alone, 18 container vessels were built, ten of them with a capacity of 1,000 TEUs which was large for the time. In 1969, 25 ships were built and the size of the largest ships increased to approaching 2,000 TEU. In 1972, the first container ships with a capacity of more than 3,000 TEU were completed by the Howaldtwerke Shipyard in Germany.

Now an entire industry had emerged, demanding unprecedented investment in vessels, containers, terminals, offices and information technology to manage the complex logistics.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the container shipping industry grew exponentially. There were now connections between Japan and the US west coast, and Europe and the US east coast. The Europe–Asia route began to be serviced by consortia (a group of carriers sharing space on ships) in the early 1970s as well as some independent services. By the end of the decade, shipping between Europe, South East and Eastern Asia, South Africa, Australia/New Zealand, North America and South America were all largely containerized. In 1973, US, European and Asian containership operators were carrying 4 million TEUs all over the world. By 1983, this would rise to 12 million TEUs by which time containers had also arrived in the Middle East, the Indian sub-Continent, and East and West Africa.

The present-day industry is truely global and touches all out lives in ways we cannot imagine. The Economist recently declared that, "new research suggests that the container has been more of a driver of globalisation than all trade agreements in the past 50 years together."¹ Marc Levinson, a noted economist, suggests that the container and container shipping are largely responsible for the growth of global trade. Read an excerpt from his book, The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger.

¹ The Economist. "Containers have been more important for globalisation than freer trade." May 18th, 2013.