The shipping industry is one we rarely think too much about, particularly, shipping by boat overseas. Have you ever found yourself wondering about how our complex and multi-layered delivery system gets items from country to country? Or perhaps you’ve driven past a shipping port recently and wondered what was in all of those containers. Here are some fascinating shipping industry facts that just might surprise you.
1. Almost 90% of everything we buy arrives by boat. There are also many goods for which parts arrive by boat and are assembled in the U.S. However, almost anything you can think of that we buy, from clothes to food to electronics to toys, has come to us by boat.
2. Pirates are real. Pirate attacks on shipping vessels has outpaced the rate of violent assaults in the country with the highest crime rate in the world (South Africa) for the last several years. The most dangerous area for pirate attacks is off the coast of Somalia, though pirate attacks happen all over the globe.
3. The shipping industry is extremely secretive. The ocean-faring sector of the shipping industry is intensely secretive. It is so secretive that most shipping companies and shipowner associations refuse to reveal how many shipping vessels they have or how many members are part of their organization. Even more, the tight-lipped nature of ocean/over-water shippers is regarded as normal. Though unconfirmed, one might assume this approach may be to avoid giving away details that could be used by pirates.
4. Shipping containers are rarely inspected. With so many different types of products coming into the country by boat in shipping containers, you might assume inspection would be rigorous to ensure nothing undocumented is making its way into the U.S. In reality, only about 5% of shipping containers arriving at U.S. ports are physically inspected. The inspection rates for most European ports are even lower.
5. The oceans are astronomic. The world’s oceans are so immense that the normal travels of the average container ship in a single year accrue the same mileage as the distance of going 3/4 of the way to the moon and back.
We may not often think about it, but the over-water sector of the shipping industry is more interesting than we realize. Traveling across the open seas, keeping watch for pirates and quite literally living by the code of “loose lips sink ships”, shipping vessels and their crews experience things many of us can’t even imagine. To learn more fascinating facts about shipping, check out the book Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate by Rose George.