The continued importance of the global shipping industry

If you’d have asked people 50 years ago where they thought the world of international trade would be by 2020 they probably would have mentioned flying trucks and teleportation.

However, even in an age of digital transformation and ‘smart everything’, international shipping is still responsible for 90% of global commodities.

Even though it’s an industry with hundreds of years worth of history behind it, it’s still the most affordable means of transport. It’s also more environmentally friendly than air transport and whilst it might be far from carbon neutral, there are corners of the industry making significant strides to reduce the industry footprint by slowing down our ships. Indeed, while it accounts for 90% of transport, it only accounts for 25% of 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

So, why has the shipping industry held fast against shifting global trends? Find out below.


Today, there are around 1.5 million people employed by the global shipping industry. Unfortunately, only 2% are female, though there are strides being made to rectify this.

There are many diverse roles within the shipping industry too. The shipbroker, for example, acts as the intermediary between the owner of the ship and whoever is chartering it, while those in operations are in charge of making sure things run smoothly and on time.


The engine of a container ship is about a thousand times more powerful than your average car, though they only travel at around 27 miles an hour (or 23 knots).

Many of the largest container ships need to be able to carry thousands of shipping containers, which means an intense amount of power is required.


Historically, the oceans have been monumentally important as a means of transportation, they do take it the majority of the earth’s surface, after all. However, only relatively recently have people mostly stopped travelling by ship in favour of air transport due to its speed and cost. Today, it’s all about the goods, with literally billions of tonnes of goods exported and imported every year.


As the shipping industry has grown, so has the range of ships necessary to carry specialised cargo. General cargo ships can carry awkwardly shaped heavy goods and building materials, whilst tankers are developed specifically to carry oil.

Then there are bulk carriers to ferry goods like coal and ore acrid from South America and Australia. These account for about 35% of all global shipping alongside tankers. Finally, there are container ships, which can carry thousands of containers across the oceans and load and unload cargo quickly and efficiently.


Whilst it might not be as expedient as air travel, the shipping industry has come a long way from the intricate wooden ships that sailed the seas hundreds of years ago. One area in which it hasn’t come that far, however, is speed.

Notably, since the invention of the double propeller, marine propulsion has not really come that far. This also means that shipping is still a lot more affordable than air transport though and this is perhaps the main reason why it’s still the default way to send goods to this day. They do call it ‘shipping’ after all.

Incredible shipping facts

  • Over 55,000 cargo ships are currently active across the world owned and operated in over 150 countries.
  • Around 20 millions containers cross the oceans every single day.
  • Despite their daunting size, most container ships are staffed with a skeleton crew of no more than 20 members.
  • The global shipping industry transports around £4 trillion worth of goods each year.
  • The largest container could potentially hold around 745 million bananas.