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What Do Steel Shipping Containers Actually Carry?

The world’s many Corten steel shipping containers (a recent estimate put the figure at 20 million) carry an extraordinary range of everyday and exotic goods.These truck-sized Conex boxes, which can be over 50-foot in length, have revolutionised international trade over the past 60 years. Their impressive dimensions and wide variety of types and specifications means that they are regularly utilised by almost all industries.

Refrigerated Steel Shipping Containers for Perishable Loads

Heavy duty steel shipping containers make extremely effective refrigerators, although you won’t fit one in your kitchen! Usually known in the shipping industry as ‘reefers’, refrigerated containers they are used to safely carry temperature-sensitive cargoes, including food and beverages of all kinds. Reefers most frequently come in 20ft or 40ft lengths and have inbuilt, electrically powered refrigeration units. Once on board a ship, a shipping container can be plugged into the vessel’s own power source and linked up to a computerised monitoring system, which is managed by the crew. The standard temperature range is -25C to +25C and if the pre-selected level changes, alarm bells sound and lights flash in the ship’s control room.

Steel Shipping Containers

A Surprising Use for Refrigerated Conex Boxes

One extraordinary and perhaps controversial use of refrigerated shipping containers is the transportation of Scottish cod halfway round the world to China, where its relatively low labor costs (less than $2 a day) mean that it is cheaper to fillet the fish there, before shipping the frozen product all the way back to the UK! That’s a 10,000-mile roundtrip in a reefer before the frozen product arrives in British stores and restaurants. And it’s not just cod but Scottish prawns and langoustines that make a similar journey to Thailand for cleaning and shelling. Even more unlikely, several brands of blended Scotch whisky are sent by Conex box to Australia for bottling! Needless to say, this arrangement has not gone down well with global environmentalists, who campaign against excessive food miles, or Scotland’s food and drink workers, justifiably concerned about their jobs vanishing.

Other Types of Cargo Shipped in Containers

The shipping container industry breaks cargo down into four main categories: dry, hazardous, refrigerated and over-sized. It is further sub-divided according to market segment: food and beverages, chemical, oil and gas, manufacturing and white goods. What steel shipping containers are permitted to carry follows strict ISO (International Organization for Standardization) rules.

International rock bands now stage such complex and sophisticated shows that they are forced to take all their stage equipment – lighting rigs, props, costumes, musical instruments and computer systems – with them on tour. Robust Corten steel shipping containers offer the perfect combination of security and protection from the elements that such precious and expensive gear demands.


Another more unusual use of steel shipping containers was for an exhibition of dinosaurs. Instead of ruling the world, they toured it in several Conex boxes! Fourteen of these life-sized monsters travelled in high-cube shipping containers, whose 9’6” height made them ideal. Open-top and flat rack shipping containers are also useful for carrying similarly awkward loads.

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