About The Industry | World Shipping Council

Liner shipping is the service of transporting goods by means of high-capacity, ocean-going ships that transit regular routes on fixed schedules. There are approximately 400 liner services, most sailing weekly, in operation today. Liner vessels, primarily in the form of containerships and roll-on/roll-off ships, carry about 60 percent of the goods by value moved internationally by sea each year.

See a video presentation on the history of shipping courtesy of wsj.com. (Image property of wsj.com).

How a steel box transformed how we send and receive goods around the world.


How Liner Shipping Works

Learn more about how this global industry seamlessly connects countries and their consumers with goods from around the world.

Liner Ships

Most liner ships are containerships, capable of moving thousands of truckloads of cargo on a single voyage. Additionally, roll-on/roll-off vessels, known as RoRo ships, (so named because you can literally drive on and off of them – much like a ferry), provide liner service to vehicles and certain machinery. Finally, some liner ships are a combination of container and RoRo. Learn more about liner ships.


Container shipping is different from conventional shipping because it uses standard “containers” of various sizes – 20 foot (6.09 m), 40 foot (12.18 m), 45 foot (13.7 m), 48 foot (14.6 m), and 53 foot (16.15 m) – to load, transport, and unload goods. The standard measure of containers is a twenty-foot equivalent unit or TEU so a twenty-foot container equals one TEU, a forty-foot container equals two TEU and so on. The containers are all built to an international standard so they are interchangeable between container shipping companies, and with rail and trucking companies. Learn more about containers.

Global Trade

Container shipping could lay claim to being the world’s first truly global industry. Likewise it could claim to be the industry which, more than any other makes it possible for a truly global economy to work. It connects countries, markets, businesses and people, allowing them to buy and sell goods on a scale not previously possible. Learn more about liner shipping and global trade.

History of Containerization

Although the world economy is highly dependent today on the efficiencies brought about by modern containerization, this method of transporting goods internationally is just decades old. How did it get started?

Glossary of Industry Terms

Like many industries, the liner shipping industry uses terms and acronyms the meanings of which may be unclear to those unfamiliar with the industry. See the glossary for some common terms and definitions.


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