Photo's of Ships and Merchant Vessels

A merchant vessel is a ship that transports cargo or passengers.

Most countries of the world operate fleets of merchant ships. However, due to the high costs of operations, today these fleets are in many cases sailing under the flags of nations that specialize in providing manpower and services at favourable terms. Such flags are known as "flags of convenience". Currently, Liberia and Panama are particularly favoured. Ownership of the vessels can be by any country, however.

The Greek-owned fleet is the largest in the world. Today, the Greek fleet accounts for some 16 per cent of the world’s tonnage; this makes it currently the largest single international merchant fleet in the world, albeit not the largest in history.

In English, "Merchant Navy" without further clarification is used to refer to the British Merchant Navy; the United States merchant fleet is known as the United States Merchant Marine.

During wars, merchant ships may be used as auxiliaries to the navies of their respective countries, and are called upon to deliver military personnel and material.

Name prefixes

Merchant ships names are prefixed by which kind of vessel they are: MV = Motor Vessel, SS = Steam Ship, MT = Motor Tanker or Motor Tug Boat, MSV = Motor Stand-by Vessel, MY = Motor Yacht, RMS = Royal Mail Ship, RRS = Royal Research Ship, SV = Sailing Vessel (although these can be sub coded as type of sailing vessel).

Merchant ship categories

Merchant ships may be divided into several categories, according to their purpose and/or size.

Dry cargo ships

A cargo ship or freighter is any sort of ship or vessel that carries cargo, goods, and materials from one port to another. Thousands of cargo carriers ply the world's seas and oceans each year; they handle the bulk of international trade. Cargo ships are usually specially designed for the task, often being equipped with cranes and other mechanisms to load and unload, and come in all sizes.

Dry cargo ships today are mainly bulk carriers and container ships. Bulk carriers or bulkers are used for the transportation of homogeneous cargo such as coal, rubber, copra, tin, and wheat. Container ships are used for the carriage of miscellaneous goods.

Bulk carriers

A bulk carrier is ocean-going vessel used to transport bulk cargo items such as iron ore, bauxite, coal, cement, grain and similar cargo. Bulk carriers can be recognized by large box-like hatches on deck, designed to slide outboard or fold fore-and-aft to enable access for loading or discharging cargo. The dimensions of bulk carriers are often determined by the ports and sea routes that they need to serve, and by the maximum width of the Panama Canal. Most lakes are too small to accommodate bulk carriers, but a large fleet of lake freighters has been plying the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway of North America for over a century.

Container ships

Container ships are cargo ships that carry all of their load in truck-size containers, in a technique called containerization. They form a common means of commercial intermodal freight transport.


A tanker is a ship designed to transport liquids in bulk.

Tankers for the transport of fluids, such as crude oil, petroleum products, liquefied petroleum gas, liquefied natural gas and chemicals, also vegetable oils, wine and other food - the tanker sector comprises one third of the world tonnage.

Tankers can range in size from several hundred tons, designed for servicing small harbours and coastal settlements, to several hundred thousand tons, with these being designed for long-range haulage. A wide range of products are carried by tankers, including:

* hydrocarbon products such as oil, LPG, and LNG
* Chemicals, such as ammonia, chlorine, and styrene monomer
* fresh water
* wine

Different products require different handling and transport, thus special types of tankers have been built, such as "chemical tankers" and "oil tankers". "LNG carriers" as they are typically known, are a relatively rare tanker designed to carry liquefied natural gas.

Among oil tankers, supertankers were designed for carrying oil around the Horn of Africa from the Middle East; the FSO Knock Nevis being the largest vessel in the world, a ULCC supertanker formerly known as Jahre Viking (Seawise Giant). It has a deadweight of 565 thousand metric tons and length of about 500 meters. The use of such large ships is in fact very unprofitable, due to the inability to operate them at full cargo capacity; hence, production supertankers has currently ceased. Today's largest oil tankers in comparison by gross tonnage are TI Europe, TI Asia, TI Oceania, which are the largest sailing vessels today. But even with their deadweight of 441,585 metric tons, sailing as VLCC most of the time, they do not use more than 70% of their total capacity.

Apart from pipeline transport, supertankers are the only method for transporting large quantities of oil, although such tankers have caused large environmental disasters when sinking close to coastal regions, causing oil spills. See Exxon Valdez, Braer, Prestige, Torrey Canyon, Erika, for examples of tankers that have caused oil spills.

Specialized ships

Specialized ships, e.g. for heavy lift goods or refrigerated cargo (Reefer ships), roll-on/roll-off cargo (RoRo) ships for vehicles and wheeled machinery. These ships are not very well developed, except those used as car carriers. Only this sector of Maritime Industry is well developed. Largest roll-on/roll-off cargo (RoRo) ships are Sunbelt Spirit, Liberty (ex-Faust), Phoenix Leader, Aquamarine ACE. They have a capacity of about 6 to 9 thousand units.


Coasters, smaller ships for any category of cargo which are normally not on ocean-crossing routes, but in coastwise trades. Coasters are shallow-hulled ships used for trade between locations on the same island or continent. Their shallow hulls mean that they can get through reefs where seagoing ships usually cannot (seagoing ships have a very deep hull for supplies and trade etc.).

Passenger ships

A passenger ship is a ship whose primary function is to carry passengers. The category does not include cargo vessels which have accommodations for limited numbers of passengers, such as the formerly ubiquitous twelve-passenger freighters in which the transport of passengers is secondary to the carriage of freight. The type does however include many classes of ships which are designed to transport substantial numbers of passengers as well as freight. Indeed, until recently virtually all ocean liners were able to transport mail, package freight and express, and other cargo in addition to passenger luggage, and were equipped with cargo holds and derricks, kingposts, or other cargo-handling gear for that purpose. Modern cruiseferries have car decks for lorries as well as the passenger's cars. Only in more recent ocean liners and in virtually all cruise ships has this cargo capacity been suppressed.

Cruise ships

A cruise ship or a cruise liner is a passenger ship used for pleasure voyages, where the voyage itself and the ship's amenities are considered an essential part of the experience. Cruising has become a major part of the tourism industry, with millions of passengers each year as of 2008. The industry's rapid growth has seen nine or more newly built ships catering to a North American clientele added every year since 1978, as well as others servicing European clientele. Smaller markets such as the Asia-Pacific region are generally serviced by older tonnage displaced by new ships introduced into the high growth areas.

Cruise ships operate on a mostly set roundabout course or round trips (i.e. they tend to return to their originating port) whereas ocean liners are defined by actually doing ocean-crossing voyages, which may not lead back to the same port for years.


A ferry is a form of transportation, usually a boat or ship, but also other forms, carrying (or ferrying) passengers and sometimes their vehicles. Ferries are also used to transport freight (in lorries and sometimes unpowered freight containers) and even railroad cars. Most ferries operate on regular, frequent, return services. A foot-passenger ferry with many stops, such as in Venice, is sometimes called a waterbus or water taxi.

Ferries form public transport systems of many waterside cities, allowing direct transit between points at a capital cost much lower than bridges or tunnels.

* American Bureau of Shipping
* Boat
* Marine fuel management
* Ship
* Whaleback
* The American Waterways Operators


1. ^ Review of Maritime Transport 2007, Chapter 2, Structure and ownership of the world fleet, p. 45
2. ^ The ocean-going stretch limo - New Zealand Herald, Friday 16 February 2007

Merchant Vessel Class

Merchant ships are almost always classed by a classification society. These vessels are said to be in class when their hull, structures, machinery, and equipment conform to International Maritime Organization and MARPOL standards. Vessels out of class may be uninsurable and/or not permitted to sail by other agencies.

A vessel's class may include endorsements for the type of cargo such as "oil carrier", "bulk carrier", "mixed carrier" etc. It may also include class notations denoting special abilities of the vessel. Examples of this include an ice class, fire fighting capability, oil recovery capability, automated machinery space capability, or other special ability.

A classification society is a non-governmental organization that establishes and maintains technical standards for the construction and operation of ships and offshore structures. The society will also validate that construction is according to these standards and carry out regular surveys in service to ensure compliance with the standards.

To avoid liability, they explicitly take no responsibility for the safety, fitness for purpose, or seaworthiness of the ship.


Classification societies set technical rules, confirm that designs and calculations meet these rules, survey ships and structures during the process of construction and commissioning, and periodically survey vessels to ensure that they continue to meet the rules. Classification societies are also responsible for classing oil platforms, other offshore structures, and submarines. This survey process covers diesel engines, important shipboard pumps and other vital machinery.

Classification surveyors inspect ships to make sure that the ship, its components and machinery are built and maintained according to the standards required for their class


In the second half of the 18th century, London merchants, shipowners, and captains often gathered at Edward Lloyds’ coffee house to gossip and make deals including sharing the risks and rewards of individual voyages. This became known as underwriting after the practice of signing one's name to the bottom of a document pledging to make good a portion of the losses if the ship didn’t make it in return for a portion of the profits. It did not take long to realize that the underwriters needed a way of assessing the quality of the ships that they were being asked to insure. In 1760, the Register Society was formed — the first classification society and which would subsequently become Lloyd's Register — to publish an annual register of ships. This publication attempted to classify the condition of the ship’s hull and equipment. At that time, an attempt was made to classify the condition of each ship on an annual basis. The condition of the hull was classified A, E, I, O or U, according to the state of its construction and its adjudged continuing soundness (or lack thereof). Equipment was G, M, or B: simply, good, middling or bad. In time, G, M and B were replaced by 1, 2 and 3, which is the origin of the well-known expression 'A1', meaning 'first or highest class'. The purpose of this system was not to assess safety, fitness for purpose or seaworthiness of the ship. It was to evaluate risk.

Samuel Plimsoll pointed out the obvious downside of insurance:

The ability of shipowners to insure themselves against the risks they take not only with their property, but with other peoples’ lives, is itself the greatest threat to the safe operation of ships.

The first edition of the Register of Ships was published by Lloyd's Register in 1764 and was for use in the years 1764 to 1766.

Bureau Veritas (BV) was founded in Antwerp in 1828, moving to Paris in 1832. Lloyd's Register reconstituted in 1834 to become 'Lloyd's Register of British and Foreign Shipping'. Where previously surveys had been undertaken by retired sea captains, from this time surveyors started to be employed and Lloyd's Register formed a General Committee for the running of the Society and for the Rules regarding ship construction and maintenance, which began to be published from this time.

In 1834, the Register Society published the first Rules for the survey and classification of vessels, and changed its name to Lloyds Register of Shipping. A full time bureaucracy of surveyors (inspectors) and support people was put in place. Similar developments were taking place in the other major maritime nations.

Adoption of common rules for ship construction by Norwegian insurance societies in the late 1850s led to the establishment of Det Norske Veritas (DNV) in 1864. Then after RINA was founded in Genoa, Italy in 1861 under the name Registro Italiano, to meet the needs of Italian maritime operators. Six years later Germanischer Lloyd (GL) was formed in 1867 and Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (ClassNK) in 1899. The Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RS) was an early offshoot of the River Register of 1913.

As the classification profession evolved, the practice of assigning different classifications has been superseded, with some exceptions. Today a ship either meets the relevant class society’s rules or it does not. As a consequence it is either 'in' or 'out' of 'class'. Classification societies do not issue statements or certifications that a vessel is 'fit to sail' or 'unfit to sail', merely that the vessel is in compliance with the required codes. This is in part related to legal liability of the classification society.

However, each of the classification societies has developed a series of notations that may be granted to a vessel to indicate that it is in compliance with some additional criteria that may be either specific to that vessel type or that are in excess of the standard classification requirements. See Ice class as an example.

Flags of convenience

The advent of open registers, or flags of convenience, has led to competition between classification societies and to a relaxation of their standards.

The first open register was Panama in 1916. Fear for political instability and high and excessive consular fees led the president of Liberia, William Tubman, in 1948 to start an open register with the help of Edward Stettinius, Jr.. The World Peace of Stavros Niarchos was the first ship in that register. In 1967 Liberia passed the United Kingdom as the largest register. Nowadays, Panama, currently the largest register, and Liberia have one third of the world fleet under their flag.

Flags of convenience have lower standards for vessel, equipment, and crew than traditional maritime countries and often have classification societies certify and inspect the vessels in their registry, instead of by their own shipping authority. This made it attractive for ship owners to change flag, whereby the ship lost the economic link and the country of registry. With this, also the link between classification society and traditional maritime country became less obvious - for instance Lloyd's with the United Kingdom and ABS with the United States. This made it easier to change class and introduced a new phenomenon; class hopping. A ship owner that is dissatisfied with class can change to a different class relatively easily. This has led to more competition between classes and a relaxation of the standards. In July of 1960, Lloyds Register published a new set of rules. Not only were scantlings relaxed, but the restrictions on tank size were just about eliminated. The other classification Societies quickly followed suit. This has led to the shipping industry losing confidence in the classification societies, and also to similar concerns by the European Commission.

To counteract class hopping, the IACS has established TOCA (Transfer Of Class Agreement).

In 1978, a number of European countries agreed in The Hague on memorandum that agreed to audit whether the labour conditions on board vessels were according the rules of the ILO. After the Amoco Cadiz sank that year, it was decided to also audit on safety and pollution. To this end, in 1982 the Paris Memorandum of Understanding (Paris MoU) was agreed upon, establishing Port State Control, nowadays 24 European countries and Canada. In practice, this was a reaction on the failure of the flag states - especially flags of convenience that have delegated their task to classification societies - to comply with their inspection duties.


Today there are a number of classification societies, the largest of which are Det Norske Veritas, Lloyd's Register, Germanischer Lloyd, Nippon Kaiji Kyokai, RINA and the American Bureau of Shipping.

Classification societies employ ship surveyors, material engineers, piping engineers, mechanical engineers, chemical engineers and electrical engineers, often located at ports and office buildings around the world.

Marine vessels and structures are classified according to the soundness of their structure and design for the purpose of the vessel. The classification rules are designed to ensure an acceptable degree of stability, safety, environmental impact, etc.

All nations require that ships and other marine structures flying their flag meet certain standards; in most cases these standards are deemed to be met if the ship has the relevant certificate from a member of the IACS or EMSA. Certificates issued by the classification society on behalf of the flag country are also required for pumps, engines, and other equipment vital to the ship's function. Equipment under certain sizes is usually excluded from these certificate requirements.

In particular, classification societies may be authorised to inspect ships, oil rigs, submarines, and other marine structures and issue certificates on behalf of the state under whose flag the ships are registered.

As well as providing classification and certification services, the larger societies also conduct research at their own research facilities in order to improve the effectiveness of their rules and to investigate the safety of new innovations in shipbuilding.

There are more than 50 marine classification organizations worldwide, some of which are listed below.

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