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Understanding the various types of ships

Understanding the various types of ships
Malcolm Latarche 22 Feb 2018

There have always been different types of ships but historically the differences would have been with regard to construction or rigging rather than specialisation related to types of cargo. Ships may have been built for specific trades – for example the tea clippers – but there was very little beyond their speed to differentiate such ships from those engaged in other trades.

With the advent of iron and steel hulls and steam and motor propulsion systems, the use of sails was gradually phased out albeit over a very long period of time. Since ships now had to carry fuel as well as cargo, the move towards larger ships was set in motion. That said, the volume of goods and commodities moving around the globe was but a fraction of what it is today and a large ship of the 19th century would be considered very small by today’s standard.

Specialisation by cargo type can probably said to have begun in the second half of the 19th century when the first purpose-built oil tankers were constructed. These were very basic and did not have the segregation or pump systems that would come later. Dry cargo ships were for the most part all built along similar lines with only size differentials marking them out. Colliers – bulk carriers intended for coal – were the first specialised dry cargo ships to appear but the majority of bulk cargoes were carried in sacks or bags in general cargo ships.