The container revolution

Container shipping was first introduced in the USA during the 1960s, expanding to the shipping routes between the USA and Europe and Japan in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The developing countries followed from the late 1970s onwards, having originally baulked at the high initial fixed costs. To make full use of the advantages of container transportation requires properly equipped ships and port facilities with special cranes, storage space and railway systems. For this reason container traffic initially became established on the busiest shipping routes. There were ultimately two reasons that the developing countries were hesitant to embark on container transportation: price and the low volume of container traffic. In countries where there is little capital but plenty of labour, the capital cost of constructing a container port is relatively high. The labour costs it saves, however, are relatively low.

Regardless of this, many experts consider container shipping one of the key transport revolutions of the 20th century. The use of standardized containers saves tremendous costs, as the goods are packed only once and can be transported over long distances using various modes of transport – truck, rail, or ship. Time-consuming unpacking and repacking are no longer required, reducing both the direct costs of port charges for storage and stowage, and the considerable indirect costs of demurrage. It is estimated that traditional cargo ships, which need more time to unload their cargo, spend half to two thirds of their operating time in port. The containerization of shipping pays off especially at sea, as the large and fast container ships substantially reduce the cost per tonne-mile between ports.