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Merchant Vessels and its Classification

  • Sanatan 
  • 6 min read

Modern Seagoing merchant vessels come in all shapes and sizes and they are designed according to the type of cargo they carry. The fundamentals of purpose, size and cost also plays important role in designing of different variety of vessels.

Further below a layout of the various ship types and their subdivisions will be listed out, covering a wide range of all vessels in operation.

Dry Cargo Ships

A dry cargo ship is mainly used for bulk carriers and container ships. While bulk carriers are used in the movement of bulk loose cargo such as grains, coal, ores, and cement, container ships are normally used for carrying miscellaneous and manufactured goods.

Bulk carriers

As the name suggests, a bulk carrier is primarily used in the transportation of loose cargo(unpacked) including grains, ores, cement, and other similar cargo. 40% of the total merchant fleets in the world comprises bulk carriers. According to size bulk carriers are divided into further six categories. These include Small, Handysize, Handymax, Panamax, Capesize Very Large.  Their size can vary from a small mini-bulker to giant ships with a tonnage of 400,000 deadweight tonnage (DWT). South Korea is currently the largest builder of bulk carriers on the planet.

Bulk Carrier (Merchant Vessels and its Classification)
Bulk Carrier

Container Ships

As the name suggests, a vessel designed specifically to hold huge quantities of cargo condensed in different types of containers is referred to as a container vessel (ship). Container in today’s world has become the main way of transporting manufactured goods across the globe. They can also accommodate anything from foodstuffs to automobiles, they are also used in transporting bagged and palletized goods including refrigerated cargo. Container ships are sea vessels that carry goods in large containers, by following a technique called containerization. Containers have several holes structured in them, each having its own “cell guides” which allow the containers to fix into their slot. After the first layers of containers have been loaded and their hatch closed, extra layers are loaded on top of each hatch.  The containers are then lashed with both, that is the vessel and the other containers to maintain integrity. Mostly container sails on liner routes and are one of the biggest vessels seen in waters. On bases of size some prominent ones are Panamax, Suezmax, Post-Panamax, Post-Suezmax, Post-Malaccamax.

Container Ships (Merchant Vessels and its Classification)
Container Ships


Vessels that are specialized for transporting a large amount of crude oil, finished petroleum products, liquified natural gas, chemicals, and other such cargoes are known as tankers. Tankers were first structured in the mid-nineteenth century when the use of iron was everywhere and it was the economical and leakage reduction offered by the iron which made it more popular. Increasing demands and economies of scale have driven its sizes that we see today. Tankers are segregated into separate tanks in which cargo is pumped via a pipeline system. Modern-day tankers now consist of large and separated ballast tanks for improved stability and also feature various safety systems like adding inert gas and to reduce the risk of fire and explosion. They constitute 33% of the world’s trade tonnage. Tankers are sub-divided on basis of types of cargo carried by them.

Chemical and Product Carriers

One of the largest ships afloat is Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC) and Ultra Large Crude Carriers. These types of ships are used for transporting chemical and different liquid cargo in bulk Product Carriers are generally smaller in size than crude carriers and they carry refined products from the large terminals to various ports. The products they carry include petroleum, asphalt, tar, etc.

Chemical Tanker (Merchant Vessels and its Classification)
Chemical Tanker

Liquefied Gas Carriers

These types of ships carry Liquefied Petroleum Gas and Liquefied Natural Gas under pressure. The tanks in these ships are made spherical for more strength. LNG carriers are comparatively Large than LPG ones.

  • Some common tankers are juice tankers, wine tankers, integrated tug barges, and various more.
  • Based on size tankers can be further classified, they are

VLCC, ULCC, Panamax, Aframax, Suezmax, Capesize, Handymax, Lighters, and Handy.

Liquefied Gas Carrier(Merchant Vessels and its Classification)
Liquefied Gas Carrier

Passenger Vessels

The need and desires have driven the industry to design such vessels and ferries. These types of ships arrived in the nineteenth century but gained popularity in the latter part of the twentieth century. Mostly Cruisers were liners at that period. The last of the liners that stills operates is the Queen Mary 2. As identified by the name, they are used for moving passengers as we are the most specialized of all cargoes.

Cruise Ships

Primarily for Recreational activities, can be also called a luxury resort on waters. Some are Liners, Cruise Ships, pilgrimage Ships, Arctic and Antarctic Cruises.

Cruise Ship (Mein Schiff 2)(Merchant Vessels and its Classification)
Cruise Ship


Ferries are also known as connecting vessel on a short water route.

Ferry  (Mein Schiff 2)(Merchant Vessels and its Classification)

Offshore Vessels

They mainly help in oil Exploration and are also used for construction purposes at sea. They also carry goods and manpower to offshore oil platforms in deep oceans. They also play an important part in maintaining supply chains. They are 20-100 meters long. Some of few examples are Pipe Layers, Supply Ship, Drill Ship, Floating Storage Unit, etc.

Offshore Vessels
Offshore Vessels

Specialized Vessels

They are specially built to carry extremely bulky objects such as other ships and large industrial components.

Specialized Vessels
Specialized Vessels

Reefer Vessels

Reefer vessels are Used for transporting food and perishable good that needs to be kept in certain conditions during the journey. Generally, low temperature and specialized thermal treatment are required to keep them in good shape.

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<h2><strong>Reefer Vessels</strong></h2>
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Reefer Vessels

Ro-Ro Ships

Ro-Ro ships consist of ramps and platforms that can freeze any wheeled vehicle, ranging from private cars to industrial ones or lorries filled with cargo for long trips. These ships are designed specially to protect themselves and the cargoes they carry.

Ro-Ro Ship
Ro-Ro Ship

Livestock Vessels

These ships are used to transport live animals. Usually, they act as feeding zones for the animals. It is reported that some of these carry 120,000 sheep. A common route for these ships is from Australia to the Middle East.

Livestock Vessel
Livestock Vessel

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