Sea freight has been around for thousands of years and in today’s global markets, it’s easy to take it for granted. But the impact of shipping on the development of civilisation is quite staggering – let’s take a look at how sea freight really has changed the world…

Sea freight forwarding through the years

Trade and discovery

Throughout history, people have sailed across waters to discover new lands, fish, fight wars and trade, with the earliest depiction of a sailing vessel dating from around 3500 BCE to 3000 BC.

As technology and building methods advanced, people were able to sail greater distances and eventually, shipping become the preferred method for trade, with merchants realising that transporting cargo by sea was cheaper and faster than by land.

For hundreds of years, goods were packed onto ships in sacks, barrels, and containers, with ports all over the world employing longshoremen to load and unload the vessels. It was labour intensive and time consuming, with ships often docked at port longer than they were at sea.

A groundbreaking invention

Fast forward to the 20th century, and something huge happened that truly changed the world: the invention of the shipping container in 1956! In fact, the shipping container is considered one of the most influential inventions of the modern era.

Shipping containers might not seem very groundbreaking, but the standardisation of size meant goods could be packed more safely and economically with containers stacked together, making the most efficient use of space.

Global infrastructure

The effects of the shipping container cannot be underestimated; not only did it completely change how we trade, but it also led to huge innovations in global infrastructure. In 1968, one of the first modern container ships was designed, with ships becoming bigger and more advanced ever since.

Standardised sizes means that ships, lorries, planes, and trains across the globe can easily handle a container’s dimensions. And instead of manually loading and unloading cargo, cranes can move shipping containers quickly and efficiently, saving time and money.

Goods to market

Modern container terminals make it possible to load and unload containers faster than ever before, improving the supply chain and speed to market. Indeed, before their invention, the average cost for cargo loading was $5.86 per tonne, reducing to $0.16 per tonne, as damage, theft, and material loss significantly reduced.

Today, over 90% of the world’s cargo is transported by shipping containers, with up to 24,346 containers on a single ship, meaning global access to more goods at cheaper prices.

The future of sea freight

Like every sector, sea freight has been greatly affected by recent world events such as COVID and the invasion of Ukraine. But the industry as a whole continues to grow, with containerised transport forecast to increase 80% by 2050.

With digital technologies and physical advancements, the highly complex shipping industry is becoming more streamlined and automated. Net zero targets, data and analytics, plus the staggering numbers involved, mean that the movement of goods across the sea will continue to be one of the world’s major industries.

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