At Any Old Lights we’re entirely reliant upon shipping – not just for our lights, the majority of which are salvaged from decomissioned ships, but for their delivery across the oceans. So here’s our little tribute to cargo ships. No, wait, come back! There’s plenty here that will surprise you…

Shipping is one of the world’s oldest industries and remains just as important in modern times as ever. We rely on the 55,000 merchant ships, plying the oceans and waterways of the world, to keep the flow of goods coming into shops and ultimately into our lives.

Rose George, author of Ninety Percent of Everything, a study of the shipping industry named after the fact that ninety percent of everything we buy arrives by ship, writes: “These ships and boxes belong to a business that feeds, clothes, warms, and supplies us. They have fueled if not created globalization. They are the reason behind your cheap T-shirt and reasonably priced television. But who looks behind a television now and sees the ship that brought it? Who cares about the men who steered your breakfast cereal through winter storms? How ironic that the more ships have grown in size and consequence, the less space they take up in our imagination.”

Ten Facts about Cargo Ships

  1. Most cargo ships (and containers) are made out of welded steel. They are expected to last around 30 years before they need to be replaced.
  2. The largest ships could store 745 million bananas in nearly 15,000 containers. That’s one banana for every person in Europe and North America.
  3. There is no wrestling with a spoked steering wheel in order to maneuver a ship that large. Modern high-tech vessels are more likely to be controlled using a joy-stick or mouse-ball.
  4. In spite of their vast size, most container ships are crewed by between 13 and 24 crew members.
  5. On average, the typical shipworker is a male Filipino. Filipinos make up one third of all shipworkers, with men constituting 98 percent of the work force.
  6. Worldwide, only around 2-10 per cent of containers are actually inspected. US ports normally inspect roughly 5 per cent of the 17 million containers arriving at the border every year.
  7. Distances travelled in a year are immense. A container ship travels the equivalent of three-quarters of the way to the moon and back in one year during its regular progress across the oceans.
  8. In terms of environmental impact, shipping produces the least CO2 per mile and per ton of cargo transported. Shipping is recognised as the most efficient form of commercial cargo transport.
  9. Shipping is cheap. It’s so cheap in fact, that in our globalised marketplace, rather than fillet its own fish, Scotland can send its cod 10,000 miles across the ocean to China to be filleted, and then sent back for less than the price of doing it themselves.
  10. Every year, more than 2,000 sailors die at sea, and an incredible two ships are lost every day. In 2012, the attack rates on seafarers was higher than the number of violent crimes in South Africa, the highest-crime nation on Earth.

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