Merchant Marine Vessel Capacity

Merchant Marine Vessel Capacity

Merchandise trade valued at over $718 billion moved by maritime vessels between U.S. and foreign seaports in 2001 [2]. Container shipments increased 71 percent between 1992 and 20011 [3].

The average capacity of containerships calling at U.S. ports increased 9 percent to nearly 40,000 deadweight tons (dwt)2 between 19983 and 2001 (figure 21). The world’s largest containerships, built primarily during the late 1990s and early 2000s, are over 3 football fields long (1,138 ft), 140 feet wide, and 50 feet deep [1].

Containership capacity increased faster than the average capacity of all types of vessels calling at U.S. ports, which grew 4 percent between 1998 and 2001. The average capacity of all vessels is larger than the average capacity of containerships because it includes tankers, which carry nearly 90,000 dwt on average and dock at specialized ports. Excluding tankers, average vessel capacity was just over 32,000 dwt in 2001.


1. Maersk-Sealand, Vessels web page, available at, as of April 2003.

2. U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. International Trade and Freight Transportation Trends (Washington, DC: 2003).

3. _____, Maritime Trade and Transportation 2002 (Washington, DC: 2002).

1 1992 is the first year for which data are available. Percentage change was calculated in terms of 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs).

2 Deadweight tons is an expression of vessel capacity. It is the lifting capacity of a vessel expressed in long tons (2,240 lbs), including cargo, commodities, and crew.

3 1998 is the first year for which data are available.