Merchant Vessels

Merchant vessels are ships that are primarily used either for carrying cargo or passengers. Basically, the ships that are engaged in active commercial transportation fall in this category. The navy ships or pleasure craft that don’t charge passengers are excluded from the category of merchant vessels.

Merchant vessels come in different sizes and shapes. It can be as small as a 6 m (20 ft) long diving boat, or as big as ultra large crude carriers (ULCC) that can be up to 415 m (1,361 ft) long. They are the main tool of ocean transportation, carrying crude oil and goods throughout the world, in varied sizes of tankers, containers and bulk carriers.

Almost all countries in the world possess and operate merchant ships.  Currently, the Greek merchant fleet is the largest in the world accounting for over 16% of the world’s total tonnage.

Merchant Vessels

Types of Merchant Vessels

Merchant vessels can be divided into different categories according to their size and purpose.

Dry Cargo Ships

Dry cargo ship is a term generally used for bulk carriers and container ships. While bulk carriers are used in the transportation of bulk cargo such as grains, coal, ores and cement, container ships are normally used for carrying miscellaneous goods.

  • Bulk carriers: As the name suggests, a bulk carrier is primarily used in carrying unpackaged bulk cargo items including grains, ores, cement and other similar cargo.  They comprise of 40% of the merchant fleets in the world. They can be categorised in six major categories according to their size. The categories include Small, Handysize, Handymax, Panamax, Capesize and Very Large.  Their size can range from a small mini-bulker to giant ships with a capacity of 400,000 dead weight tonnage (DWT). South Korea is the largest builder of bulk carriers in the world.

Bulk Carrier
  • Container ships are ocean vessels that carry goods in large containers, a technique called containerisation. They can be divided into several categories according to their size. Main categories of container ships include such as feeder, feedermax, Panamax, new Panamax, and ultra large. They play a dominant role in international trade.

Container Ship


Tankers are used for transporting crude oil, finished petroleum products, liquefied natural gas (LNG), chemicals and other liquids in bulk. They play an important role in international trade with a share of over 33% of the world tonnage. Tankers come in varied sizes ranging from handysize tankers to ultra large crude carriers (ULCC) with a size ranging between 320,000 to 500,000 DWT.


Passenger Ships

As the name suggests, passenger ships are primarily used for carrying passengers. It also includes cruise ships that are mainly used for pleasure voyages.

Passenger Ship

Specialised vessels

Specialised ships are designed in a way to transport specific goods such as vehicles and machinery.

Specialised vessel

Offshore Vessels

They are specially designed ships for transporting goods and personnel to offshore oil platform that operate deep in oceans.  The size of these vessels ranges between 20 meters and 100 meters.  They are good at accomplishing a variety of tasks in the supply chain.

Offshore vessel