Maritime Directory

The History of Tankers and Containerization!


People have been trading with each other, even between nations and across oceans, for thousands of years - long before containerization. However, in 1955, Malcom P. McLean, a trucking entrepreneur from North Carolina, USA, bought a steamship company with the idea of transporting entire truck trailers with their cargo still inside. He realized it would be much simpler and quicker to have one container that could be lifted from a vehicle directly on to a ship without first having to unload its contents.His ideas were based on the theory that efficiency could be vastly improved through a system of "intermodalism", in which the same container, with the same cargo, can be transported with minimum interruption via different transport modes during its journey. Containers could be moved seamlessly between ships, trucks and trains. This would simplify the whole logistical process and, eventually, implementing this idea led to a revolution in cargo transportation and international trade over the next 50 years!

To learn more visit: History of Containerization- World Shipping Council, Containerization: The Most Influential Invention That You've Never Heard Of- YouTube


It began with the brig Elizabeth Watts who sailed for England in late 1861 carrying 224 tons of a substance called petroleum which was the world's first really substantial cargo of oil and arrived safely in England 45 days later.

The 2700-ton GLUCKAUF, built in Britain, became the world's first true oil tanker, with separate tanks for the oil built into her hull. Until her appearance, oil had previously been shipped in barrels or drums. Now it could be pumped directly into the ships tanks. With the Gluckauf the vessel hull itself became the oil container. This started a new trade which, would grow enormously over the years. Apart from increased size, tanker design has largely followed that of Gluckauf ever since.

Technology and Demand

The tanker industry saw significant technological advancements since 1890. Vessels have increased dramatically in size and carrying capacity and they have progressed from coal-fired engines via steam-turbines to diesel engines. Demand for oil was encouraged by the invention in 1897 of the Diesel engine, which used oil as a fuel rather than coal. Within a few years, marine diesel engines were being built-in and by 1911, the first diesel powered ship crossed the Atlantic. By 1927 some 28% of the world merchant fleet used oil for power.

The birth of the large Tankers of Today

In 1950 the standard sized oil tanker was the "T2" tanker, some 620 of which were built in the United States between 1942 and 1946. The tanker equivalent of the famous Liberty ship, many T2 ships were sold after the end of hostilities and formed the backbone of many fleets. They had a deadweight of 16,000 tons and many were still being used in the 1960s.

By the middle of of the 20th Century, with the oil boom growing in order to keep up with soaring motor car production, a tanker of around 25,000 ton was a big one. With the main oil producers concentrated in the Middle East and the main consumers being concentrated in the West, the overall size of tankers was generally limited by the maximum that could use the Suez Canal, about 30,000 tons gross. The maximum size of tankers changed after two periods of closure of the Suez Canal - the first in 1956 after the Suez Crisis and the second in 1967 after the Six Day Way between Israel and Egypt. After the Canal was closed, oil brought from the Middle East to the West had to be carried by the longer route around South Africa. As a result, tanker sizes began to grow significantly, a process that was to continue until the end of the 1960s. In 1959 the 114,356 dwt Universe Apollo became the first tanker to pass the 100,000-ton figure: within a decade ships five times that size were being planned. Thus a new generation of tanker was born, the VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) and the ULCCs (Ultra Large Crude Carriers).

For Further Reading Visit: Tanker History- Global Security