Update : Mar 11 , 2023
The maritime industry is fascinating, complex, and ever-changing. In order to stay ahead of the game, shippers need to have a good understanding of the different types of vessels that ply the world's oceans, as well as their relative strengths and weaknesses.
One of the most important decisions a shipper has to make is what type of vessel to use for their cargo. This decision will be based on a number of factors, including the type and amount of cargo, the destination, and the time frame.
There are many different types of commercial vessels that sail the world’s seas, carrying a wide variety of cargoes. This article will explore the divisions of cargo vessels and types.
Each type of vessel has its own strengths and weaknesses, which shippers take into account when making their decision.
Let's look deeper at each vessel and type.
Dry cargo vessels, AKA general cargo ships, were once popular among the world's merchant fleets. These types of ships usually came with derricks-a device used to lift and load cargo onto the vessel. The holds (compartments on the ship) contained different types of goods, and how fast it could be loaded or unloaded depended on two factors: 1.) The skill level of crew members working aboard the ship. 2.) Port workers are also known as "stevedores." Some dry cargo vessels stick to specific routes between certain ports while others became what we now refer to as "tramp traders," basically going wherever they were needed at any given time.
These are vessels designed to carry large amounts of unpackaged dry cargo, such as grains, coal, ore, and cement. They are usually large ships with a capacity of 100,000 tonnes or more.
The main advantage of bulk carriers is that they can carry very large loads, which is ideal for shippers who have large quantities of cargo. However, bulk carriers are not as versatile as other types of vessels, and they can be more difficult to load and unload.
These are vessels designed to carry large numbers of containers, which are used to transport everything from clothes to electronics. They are usually very large ships, with a capacity of around 20,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units).
The main advantage of container ships is that they are very versatile, and can carry a wide range of different types of cargo. They are also relatively easy to load and unload. However, container ships are not as efficient as other types of vessels when it comes to transporting large volumes of cargo.
Also called Breakbulk, they don't have the same unitization requirements as containers. They're typically loaded onto pallets or in bags, which means that specialized handling facilities aren't always necessary. Loading and unloading can be done with cranes and straps for boxes, or slings for bags. These vessels can carry loose and irregular cargo too. In those cases, the vessel’s crew packs the cargo to minimize damage and maximize space.
The main advantage of general cargo ships is that they are very versatile, and can carry a wide range of different types of cargo. They are also relatively easy to load and unload. However, they are not as efficient as other types of vessels when it comes to transporting large volumes of cargo.
These are vessels designed to transport refrigerated goods, perishable goods, such as food, that need to be kept at a certain temperature. They are usually smaller than container ships, with a capacity of around 5,000 TEU.
The main advantage of reefer vessels is that they can carry a wide range of different types of cargo. They are also relatively easy to load and unload. However, they are not as efficient as other types of vessels when it comes to transporting large volumes of cargo.
These are designed to carry wheeled cargo, such as cars, trucks, and trailers. They usually have a capacity of around 2,000 vehicles.
The main advantage of Ro-Ro vessels is that they are very efficient at transporting large volumes of wheeled cargo. However, Ro-Ro vessels can be more difficult to load and unload, and they are not as versatile as other types of vessels.
These are vessels that carry liquids in large tanks. The first tanker ship was produced in the middle of the 1800s out of iron, which was strong enough to hold liquid without leakage and was affordable. economies dictated that size increases over time, and now there are some tankers that can hold over 400,000 tons of liquid.
Among the largest ships currently sailing are the Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) and Ultra Large Crude Carriers (ULCCs). These transports oil from production fields to refineries where it becomes petroleum products. The typical large crude carrier often loads and unloads at an offshore buoy or terminal because most ports cannot accommodate their immense size.
The main advantage of crude carriers is that they can carry large volumes of crude oil. However, they are not as versatile as other types of vessels, and they can be more difficult to load and unload.
These ships, which are typically smaller than crude carriers, take the refined products from terminals that are larger to international smaller ports. Non-petroleum bulk liquids like palm oil and molasses as well as petroleum, diesel, jet fuel, asphalt, and lubricating oil get transported by these tankers.
The main advantage of product carriers is that they can carry a wide range of different types of liquids. They are also relatively easy to load and unload. However, they are not as efficient as other types of vessels when it comes to transporting large volumes of cargo.
These ships are commonly equipped with deadweight ranging from 5,000-40,000 tons and feature Cargo Holds that can refrigerate or heat the cargo as needed. These systems also maintain advanced cleaning protocols to guarantee the preservation of purity for items stored in these tanks.
The main advantage of Chemical Carriers is that they can store and transport large quantities of liquids without the need for packaging. This reduces the risk of spillage and contamination, making them ideal for carrying hazardous or volatile materials.
These converted oil tankers have now become vessels with a very specific purpose, which is to carry either Liquefied Petroleum Gas or Liquefied Natural Gas under pressure. The cargo tanks are usually spherical because this shape makes them stronger.
The primary benefit of Liquefied Gas Carriers (LGCs) is their operational flexibility. They can be utilized to transport either LNG or LPG, and the exact same vessel can be used to carry either commodity on a return voyage. The cargo tanks can be quickly emptied and refilled, so an LGC can effortlessly switch between cargoes. This adaptability means that often, small amounts of LNG or LP are transported using LGCs because they take such a short time to load and discharge.
Many cargoes are so specialized that they require specific loading, unloading, and stowage arrangements. However, there are some types of cargo that are moved with such regularity and ease that the term ‘specialized’ takes on a new meaning. For the purpose of this article, it refers to cargoes that either don't fit well into the categories of dry or liquid Cargo or cargoes that present more difficulty during handling.
This category includes transport vehicles that can hold anywhere from ten to 6000 people. Foot ferries and cruise ships fall under this definition, with the latter being driven by consumer desires.
Nowadays, ferries are equipped with luxury items such as restaurants, shops, and entertainment facilities to make the ride more enjoyable. They have also gotten larger; ships like The Ulysses that run between Holyhead and Dublin can carry 1,300 cars and 2,000 passengers.
The first time cruises were open to the public was in the 1800s, but it didn't become popular until near the end of the 1900s. A lot of cruise ships started out as liners that went to different areas with nicer weather during storms on their original routes. The Queen Mary 2 is likely the last liner still in a commission that sails across the Atlantic regularly.
Today's cruise vessels offer a variety of facilities and amenities that passengers have come to expect, including casinos, gyms, shops, theaters, cinemas, pools, restaurants, and bars. The largest cruise ships are up to 360 meters long and 60 meters wide.
Livestock carriers are large vessels equipped with pens to house a large number of animals. The main considerations during the transport of livestock are adequate water, food, good ventilation, and space. It is also important that ports that receive these vessels have facilities to handle the animals.
These ships are frequently constructed to be specific in the transport of extremely large objects, like other ships and vast industrial pieces. For example, they can be used to move an offshore platform from its construction site to a drilling location. Some heavy-lift ships have cranes that hold great amounts of weight so that they can load at ports without the same capability. Other kinds float semi-submerged which allows cargo to be positioned before the ship de-ballasts and lifts it out of the water using machinery.
These cargo vessels transport large and heavy items that require special handling. They are sometimes equipped with unique features to deal with the challenges of their mission. ‘Jack-up’ vessels can raise themselves out of the water on extendable legs. This is handy when they need to be especially stable—for example when installing offshore wind farms where the turbine towers must be placed securely in position.
Even though there are now vessels that can maneuver well, the tug is still essential to the maritime industry. Modern tugs can surpass 100 tonnes in pulling power and be highly maneuverable. Harbour tugs are a regular sight at ports globally and typically have less power than other types of tugs. They help with docking, undocking, and moving large or unable-to-move vessels within port boundaries.
Tugs are equipped to help out other vessels during bad weather or when they're carrying dangerous substances. They're also used to move around barges and personnel near ports. The larger units stay in strategic locations as deep-sea rescue tugs, ready at a moment's notice.
Tugs are used to transport barges and large frameworks, like offshore drilling platforms, from one port to another. Some tugs can also push barges; this is more common on rivers because the tug can use more force against the current. There are also tugs that fit securely into a barge or hull. Once it's fastened, this composite unit behaves like any other powered vessel. These types of units are especially prevalent in North American rivers and coastal areas where trade takes place.
There is a huge range of vessel types that serve the maritime industry. The type of vessel employed for a certain task depends on many factors such as the size and nature of the cargo, the trade route, and port facilities. As technology advances, so too do the capabilities of vessels, opening up new possibilities for trade and transport.