Container shipping began in the mid-1950s and has since grown to become a cornerstone of maritime trade. Containerization is the most convenient and cost-effective way to transport a wide range of cargoes, predominantly a diverse selection of consumer and manufactured goods.
The containerized supply chain extends throughout the world. However, the most important trades are those linking the major manufacturing economies in Asia (particularly, China) with the major consuming economies in North America and Europe and, increasingly, the intra-Asian trades connecting that region’s rapidly growing markets. Growth in containerized trade is linked to global demand for manufactured goods and thereby to regional and global economic growth. Underlying growth has been further boosted by the containerization of breakbulk goods, including refrigerated cargoes, as well as the internationalization of manufacturing supply chains.
Within the container shipping industry, key participants include shippers, liner companies and charter-owners:
- Shippers are the senders and receivers (importers and exporters) of containerized cargo.
- Liner companies (also referred to as lines or containership operators) are logistics service providers responsible for the seaborne, and often also inland, transportation of containerized goods; they negotiate freight rates with shippers themselves, or with third parties such as freight forwarders/consolidators. Liner companies either operate vessels that they themselves own, or lease vessels from charter-owners.
- Charter-owners (also referred to as containership owners or containership lessors) own containerships and lease, or charter, them out to liner companies. Between 1995 and 2016, the proportion of the global fleet capacity provided by charter-owners increased from around 16% to over 50%.
In the containership charter market, leases are most often structured as time charters. Under a time charter, the operating costs of the vessel, including crew costs, (but with the exception of fuel, which is paid for by the charterer or lessee) are borne by the lessor or owner. Charter periods can vary in length: the spot market generally refers to charter fixtures of 12 months or less, while term charters cover longer fixtures, with periods of five years or more not uncommon.
Global Ship Lease is a containership lessor focused on providing time chartered vessels, predominantly in the term charter market.