Merchant Marine Vessel Capacity

Merchant Marine Vessel Capacity

Merchandise trade valued at over $729 billion moved by maritime vessels between U.S. and foreign seaports in 2002 [2]. Container shipments increased 86 percent between 1992 and 20021 [3].

The average capacity of containerships calling at U.S. ports increased 16 percent to 42,158 deadweight tons (dwt)2 per call between 19983 and 2002 (figure 4-4). 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 any other type of vessel calling at U.S. ports between 1998 and 2002. The average capacity of tankers, which dock at specialized ports, grew the least (1 percent) between 1998 and 2002 but represent the largest average capacity vessel (69,412 dwt per call). The average vessel capacity of all ships grew 5 percent between 1998 and 2002 to 47,625 dwt per call.


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

2. U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, calculations based on U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, U.S. Imports of Merchandise Trade CD (Washington, DC: 2003).

3. U.S. Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration, personal communication, March 2004.

1 Percentage change was calculated in terms of 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs).

2 Deadweight tons refers to 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.