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Types of Commercial Cargo Ships




Types of Commercial Cargo Ships
Photo Credits
Maersk Line

Vessels designed for the primary purpose of conveying goods from one port to another are known as cargo ships. Modern commercial cargo vessels comes in shapes and sizes carrying different types of cargo. The cargoes carried across the ocean could either be dry, liquid or specialized cargo.

Types of commercial cargo ships can be categorized based on the nature of the cargo:

Dry Cargo Ships:

  • Container Ships
  • Bulk Carriers
  • General Cargo Ships
  • Ro-Ro Ships

Liquid Cargo Ships:

  • LPG/LNG Tankers
  • Chemical Carriers
  • Crude Oil Tankers
  • Product Carriers

Specialized Cargo:

  • Livestock
  • Heavy-lift/project


1. General Cargo Ships

Types of Commercial Cargo Ships
Photo-credit: EDAMGRACHT - maritime connector

General cargo vessels are dry cargo carrying ships used to carry loose and irregular cargo which is not suitable for container, ro-ro, bulk or heavy lift vessels.

It is often fitted with rigging for winches which are used to load and unload cargo to the vessel hold(s). Stevedores secure cargoes to the vessels using custom fittings often welded to the ships hold.

2. Container Ships

Types of Commercial Cargo Ships
Photo-credit: CMA CGM

These are vessels designed to carry ISO standardized shipping containers, which are 10, 20, 40 & 45ft standard containers, high-cube containers, open-top containers, flat track and platform containers - for oversized cargo, tank containers (for liquids / gasses) and refrigerated containers which require a power source to provide temperature control.

Loading and unloading of container ships are done using container-handling gantry cranes at shore terminals which move the containers between the vessel and truck.

Container ship handling at ports requires special berths, weight-handling equipment, storage areas, and links to land transportation.

3. RoRo Ship

Types of Commercial Cargo Ships
Photo-credit: Motor1

Roll On/ Roll Off vessels (ro-ro) are designed to carry wheeled cargoes such as truck trailers, railroad cars, cars across the sea. Ro-Ro vessels are loaded and unloaded using single or multiple loading ramps.

Vehicles are loaded safely and faster by driving it on the ship without the need for crane. The vehicles are braced to the ship's deck to keep them from rolling around while on voyage. The ship features a large doors in the hull with external ramps that fold down to allow rolling between pier and ship.

There are different types of ro-ro vehicles.

4. Tanker Vessels

Types of Commercial Cargo Ships
Photo-credit: Capital Ship

Tankers are ships that are primarily used for transporting large quantity of liquid cargo such as crude oil, LNG, LPG, Water, etc. There are tankers of sizes with capacity to carry several hundred thousand tons of liquid.

The tanks are distributed along the length of the ship. Heating coils are fitted within the tanks to enable pumping in cold weather. the tanks has high-suction pipes running several feet from the bottom to avoid sludge. Below them are low-suction piping (or stripping lines) to remove the lowest level of liquid in the tank.

Loading and unloading tanker vessels are carried out through open trunks leading from the weather deck or from the suction lines with the pumps.

Popular types of tanker vessels include: 

  • LPG/LNG Tankers
  • Chemical Carriers
  • Crude Oil Tankers
  • Product Carriers

5. Bulk Carriers vessel

Types of Commercial Cargo Ships
Photo-credit: oldendorff

Designed for carrying loose dry cargoes such as ore, coal, grain, cement, etc, dry bulk carriers are large vessels with special cargo holds, covered by hatches.

Loading and unloading bulk carriers is done by spouts, conveyors or by cranes fitted with grabs, some carriers have self-unloading gear - usually a large horizontal boom of open trusswork.

Types of Bulk carrier ships are:

  • Mini bulk carriers
  • Cement carriers
  • Ordinary bulk carriers

6. Barge-carrying Ships

Barge-carrying vessels are designed to carry floating vessels, usually about 60 feet long by about 30 feet wide. There are two methods of loading the floating vessel aboard the ship:

  • It is lifted over the stern by a high-capacity shipboard gantry crane
  • The ship is partially submerged so that the barges can be floated aboard through a gate in the stern.

7. Reefer Vessels

Types of Commercial Cargo Ships
Photo-credit: Splash247

Reefer ships are specially designed for temperature-controlled cargo. It is a refrigerated cargo ship for perishable commodities such as vegetables, fruit, fish, meat, dairy products, etc.. Cargo is sealed and stowed in holds.

Reefer Containers have massively replaced traditional reefer ships and it requires only a power source and can be transported on a container vessel.

8. Heavy Lift / Project Cargo Vessels

These are vessels built specifically for transporting extremely heavy or bulky cargoes including heavy industrial components and other floating vessels.

9. Multi-purpose vessels

These are vessels designed to carry different classes of cargo at the same time – e.g. liquid and general cargo.


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