It’s been seven years since I started working in the Logistics industry. Every day here at MTS Logistics, we witness tons of goods traveling oceans across continents to reach remote parts of the world. Very rarely though, in our everyday life, do we stop and think about the journey of, say the Ecuadorian banana we are pureeing for our baby – and how it contributes to world economy, as well as Ecuadorian economic growth. Again, very rarely, are goods made locally any more. That is a fact. There are good reasons for it: Economic reasons explaining that the production of some goods is much more expensive locally, or domestically. For ocean trade, economies of scale and low cost mode explains it all.
There are several different ways to transport goods globally, of course. Ocean transportation is my area. The container shipping industry has a huge impact on world trade, the environment and history. Not only that, but also it provides valuable support in subject areas such as geography, business studies, economics and commerce. I truly am proud to be a part of this industry. That is why I wanted to gather some simple facts for us all to learn and keep in mind in our daily routines.
As far as history goes, the Egyptian coastal sailing ships were trading as early as around 3,200 BC. Today, maritime transportation is at a stage where about 90-95% of international trade is carried on board ships of some sort.
By the invention of the steam engine as early as 1704, ships were not subject to dominant wind patterns. Nature started to be a lesser degree obstacle in maritime transportation therefore making it more efficient. However, still in Northern Canada, for example, simple geographical placement of the terminal demands ships that are able to handle heavy ice conditions during winter months.
The average speed of ships is about 15 knots today, which is 28 km per hour. So one ship travels about 575 km. a day. The reason for such low speed is energy requirements. To cope with speed requirement the propulsion and engine technology has improved from sailing to steam, to diesel, to gas turbines and to nuclear (for military).
By 1792 boxes similar to modern containers emerged in England and they were transported with horses and wagon and later by rail. Before the invention of container shipping, goods were unpacked and loaded onto the ships at the port, taking up too much time, manpower and money. Container ships in today’s world, can carry all sorts of specialized equipment such as logs, machinery and odd sized goods, boats, vehicles, industrial equipment, vegetables, chemicals, wine and vegetable oil, pharmaceuticals, make up, textile and oil, just to name some. Most of them and many more are an inseparable part of our daily lives, and some are concerns of politics and need strong rules and regulations.
While air mode of shipment is faster, one large container ship can carry what hundreds of airplanes can in one trip. “Economies of scale” suggests that transporting goods in large volume makes it cheaper. It permitted maritime transportation to remain at a low cost mode, a trend which has been strengthened by containerization.
There are different containers used for different cargo. If you ever wondered how the lamb you eat from New Zealand, or the sea food from Norway ended up on your plate so fresh, you should think about the technology that made this possible. Special reefer containers control temperature, allowing meat, fruit and vegetable and other perishables to travel across the world. The temperature can be as low as -60 degrees Celsius.
Transporting goods by container ships is better for the environment. It is estimated that on average a container ship emits around 40 times less carbon dioxide than a large aircraft and three times less than a heavy truck. Container shipping is also estimated to be two and a half times more energy efficient than rail and seven times more so than road. Most container ships today can carry more than 8,000 containers, which is sometimes several warehouses worth of goods. The world’s biggest container ships are about 1,300 feet long, 400 meters, the distance around an Olympic running track.
Container shipping allows us to meet the needs of a growing population by importing and exporting goods, providing consumers with more choices. It allows us to experience the ways other cultures live and consume. It helps new industries such as electronics and clothing to flourish, but most importantly it connects countries, people and markets, it boosts economies and increases employment. Without international trade, only a few nations could maintain an adequate standard of living.
So the next time you come across something that you know has traveled far distances to be at your service, rest assured that you are contributing to another nation sustaining its own economy and helping people to be a part of global economy.
As we all know; Today no nation is self sufficient.
This makes us globally connected to one another by purchasing and using goods from all over the world. It is because of this connectedness that the transportation of goods become a crucial part of our lives. My humble opinion is that we have to think about the journey of the goods around us. Millions of products travelling across oceans, to satisfy our needs or to entertain us, to make our lives easier, faster, happier, etc.. The circulation of all these global goods mean so much within the scales of the international economy, politics and history but apart from those big scale impacts, for each and every individual, it is associated with more than trade.
Personally, I love the idea of being able to find the ethnic ingredients of my mother’s favorite dish here in New York, thousands of miles away from it’s origin, sometimes for cheaper prices than in it’s local market. This way my one year old son will grow up knowing his grandmother’s favorite dish and this way, and many others, I can make sure he stays connected with his roots.