A sea container or shipping container is a cargo unit for transport by sea or land. The standard size of sea containers is indicated by TEU Twenty feet Equivalent Unit. The 20 feet container is about 6 feet long. The most common lengths are 20ft, 40ft and 45ft. Less common are sizes such as 10ft and 30ft containers.
History of the shipping container
Today, about 90 percent of goods worldwide are transported by sea, of which 60 percent are transported in large steel sea containers. The use of shipping containers in a standard size as we know them today is surprisingly quite recent. Especially with the long trading history in mind.
In the 1950s, American entrepreneur Malcolm McLean came up with the idea of using a standard container for global trade. The steep growth of international trade meant that more and more products are transported in bulk. With such large quantities, it is important to keep all products together. The main reason for standard size containers is the fact that they can be easily stacked. This is not only useful for storage, but also for switching between different means of transportation, from container ships to trucks.
The standard container designed in 1956 is still the standard we use every day today. This standard is also known as the “TEU” (Twenty feet Equivalent Unit). Although the length of different containers may differ, the width is always the same. In this way, the containers, just like Lego blocks, can always be neatly stacked with as little empty space as possible between different containers. The significant growth in the use of sea containers has led to several developments:
- The emergence of specialized container companies.
- The development of special container ships for the transport of containers by sea.
- The emergence of container terminals for inland shipping.
- Specialized road hauliers and trains to enable the transport of the containers over land.
The sea container of today
The current sea containers have an average lifespan of approximately 25 years. This is thanks to their smart sturdy design that is made in such a way that it can withstand a lot of impact during transport by sea. Before a sea container is actually allowed to go to sea, it must first pass an inspection. This inspection is also referred to as the CSC inspection. A quality mark of a new container is valid for five years, after which it must be rechecked at least every 24 months.
Without knowledge of sea containers, it can be difficult to make sense of each individual container. Fortunately, a unique system has been developed for recognizing sea containers. This system consists of a unique identification number per container. All information about the container can be retrieved here, from the country of import to the contents.
All containers have a code consisting of different elements:
- The first four characters – the prefix – are capital letters and refer to the owner of the container. The first three capital letters represent the name of the owner and the last letter is always a U (for Unit).
- The four capital letters are followed by a six-digit serial number and a control digit.
- A two-letter country code (e.g. NL, FR, BE, etc.)
- A four digit code indicating the size and type of the container.
What types of sea containers are there?
- Standard container: The standard container is generally made of steel and sometimes aluminum. In these containers, general cargo is usually transported. Ventilated standard containers also exist.
- Thermal container: These containers are insulated and designed for products that need to be transported at a specific temperature, cold or warm.
- Open top containers: This type of container has an open top, which can be covered with silk. This is suitable for products that are too large to fit in a container and can take a beating. Think of hard materials such as stone parties or coal.
- Platform containers: Platform containers have a thickened bottom and are therefore suitable for transporting heavy goods.
- Tank container: This container looks like a tank with a fence around it, and is generally used to transport liquids.
- Insulated container: These containers can be cooled by an external cooling engine, but are not common anymore.
- Bulk container: This type of container is good for – the name says it all – transporting bulk goods.
Containers are an indispensable part of our contemporary transport environment. Not only do they contribute to faster throughput, but they also ensure, among other things:
- The reduction of theft
- Better protection against damage
- A faster way of stacking
- Optimal use of space
Do you need help from an experienced freight forwarder?
Are you interested in transporting your products in a shipping container? Ademar has 39 years of experience with sea transport for various types of goods. As an SME or webshop owner, you can benefit from this expertise. Curious about what we can do for you as a freight forwarder? Contact us by e-mail or telephone and we will be happy to help you with your questions.
Call us at +31(0)10 429 96 00 or send us an email.