Ship transport refers to the use of watercraft to carry people, generally referred to as passengers, and goods, generally referred to as cargo, from one place to another.
Although the historic importance of sea travel for passengers has decreased due to the development of automobiles and aviation, it is still very effective for short trips and pleasure cruises. Sea transport remains the largest carrier of freight in the world.
While slower than air transport, modern sea transport is a highly effective method of moving large quantities of non-perishable goods. Transport by water is significantly less costly than transport by air for trans-continental shipping.
Ship transport is often international by nature, but it can be accomplished by barge, boat, ship or sailboat over a sea, ocean, lake, canal or river. This is frequently undertaken for purposes of commerce, recreation or military objectives. When a cargo is carried by more than one mode, the transport is termed intermodal or co-modal.
Ships have long been used for warfare, with applications from naval supremacy to piracy, invasions and bombardment. Aircraft carriers can be used as bases of a wide variety of military operations.
Ship transport is used for a variety of unpackaged raw materials ranging from chemicals, petroleum products, and bulk cargo such as coal, iron ore, cereals, bauxite, and so forth. So called "general cargo" covers goods that are packaged to some extent in boxes, cases, pallets, barrels, and so forth. Since the 1960s containerization has revolutionized ship transport.
A nation's shipping fleet comprises the ships that operated by civilian crews used to transport passengers or cargo. Depending on the nation, the terms merchant navy, merchant marine, or merchant fleet may be used to refer to these vessels. There are a number of terms applied to the people who operate the ships, including merchant seaman, merchant sailor, and merchant mariner, or simply seaman, sailor, or mariner. The terms "seaman" or "sailor" may also refer to a member of a country's navy.
According to the 2005 CIA World Factbook, the world total number of merchant ships of 1,000 Gross Register Tons or over was 30,936. Statistics for individual countries are available at the List of merchant marine capacity by country.
Seafarers hold a variety of professions and ranks, each of which carry unique responsibilities which are integral to the successful operation of a seafaring vessel. A ship's complement can generally be divided into four main categories: the deck department, the engineering department, the steward's department, and other.
For more details on this topic, see Deck department.
An able seaman stands iceberg lookout on the bow of the freighter USNS Southern Cross during a re-supply mission to McMurdo Station, Antarctica; circa 1981.
Officer positions in the deck department include but not limited to: Master and his Chief, Second, and Third officers. The official classifications for unlicensed members of the deck department are Able Seaman and Ordinary Seaman.
A common deck crew for a ship includes:
(1) Chief Officer/Chief Mate
(1) Second Officer /Second Mate
(1) Third Officer / Third Mate
(2-6) Able Seamen
(0-2) Ordinary Seamen
A deck cadet is person who is carrying out mandatory seatime to achieve his/her officer of the watch certificate. Their time onboard is spent learning the operations and tasks of everyday life on a merchant vessel.
For more details on this topic, see Engineering department.
A ship's engineering department consists of the members of a ship's crew that operate and maintain the propulsion and other systems on board the vessel. Marine Engineering staff also deal with the "Hotel" facilities on board, notably the sewage, lighting, air conditioning and water systems. They deal with bulk fuel transfers, and require training in firefighting and first aid, as well as in dealing with the ship's boats and other nautical tasks- especially with cargo loading/discharging gear and safety systems, though the specific cargo discharge function remains the responsibility of deck officers and deck workers. On LPG and LNG tankers however, a cargo engineer works with the deck department during cargo operations, as well as being a watchkeeping engineer.
A common Engineering crew for a ship includes:
(1) Chief Engineer
(1) Second Engineer / First Assistant Engineer
(1) Third Engineer / Second Assistant Engineer
(1-2) Fourth Engineer / Third Assistant Engineer
(0-2) Fifth Engineer / Junior Engineer
(1-3) Oiler (unlicensed qualified rating)
(0-3) Greaser/s (unlicensed qualified rating)
(1-5) Entry-level rating (such as Wiper (occupation), Utilityman, etc)
Many American ships also carry a Qualified Member of the Engine Department. Other possible positions include Motorman, Machinist, Electrician, Refrigeration Engineer, and Tankerman. Engine Cadets are trainee engineers who are completing sea time necessary before they can obtain a watchkeeping license.