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Different Types of Containers Used in International Shipping

  • Author :
  • TATA AIG Team
  • Published on :
  • 11/01/2024
  • 2 min read

While importing and exporting goods, containers play a vital role. A container is a giant box where all the goods are loaded. It is designed in a way to withstand transportation rigours. Shipping containers are of different types based on their purpose.

The main motive of different container types and sizes used in shipping is to ensure the safe transit of goods via ocean freight. The size of the containers varies depending on the usage. Though containers ensure the safety of goods, sometimes, wear and tear happens in shipping.

That is why having a marine insurance policy is essential. The policy will ensure the protection of financial assets during the emergency condition. In this blog, we will understand about the types of containers in the shipping industry.

What are Shipping Containers?

Shipping containers are giant metal boxes used to transport goods from one part of the world to another. They are also known as cargo containers. The containers are usually intermodal transportation, which means they can seamlessly transfer between ships, trucks, and trains without unloading the cargo, making the logistics process more efficient.

These containers are constructed from robust materials, usually steel, which makes them highly durable and resistant to weather, corrosion, and external damage.

One container usually lasts for 25-30 years in the shipping industry. If proper maintenance is provided, these containers can last for an even longer time. The unused or retired containers are used for various purposes like creating office space, workshops, etc.

Different Types of Containers Used in International Shipping

There are various kinds of cargo freight containers available in the market. The choice of container depends on the type of cargo, transportation needs, and destination requirements. Here, we will talk about some common types of containers used in international shipping.

Dry Storage Container

The most common form of containers is dry storage containers, also called general-purpose containers. These types of containers in logistics come in different sizes, such as 20, 45 and 40 ft.

These are designed to transport dry products and goods and are enclosed from all sides, making these containers waterproof. Temperature control is not possible in this container; hence, it cannot be used for transporting chemicals and foods that require refrigeration.

Flat Rack Container

Another type of container in logistics is flat rack containers, which are usually used to carry heavy loads such as machinery, vehicles, etc. These types of containers are usually categorised into collapsible and non-collapsible containers with and without walls.

The containers are usually 20 and 40 feet long and made from steel for durability and strength. The side wall of collapsible containers can be folded, making them secure for loading heavy goods.

Open Top Container

This cargo freight container type is the same as a dry storage container but without a top. It is generally used for transporting bulk items. Instead of a solid or fixed top or roof, these containers have removable bows.

These containers have waterproof tarpaulin tops that can be secured using ropes. These containers are used for easy loading and unloading of items.

Tunnel Containers

Another type of container is a tunnel container with doors at both ends. Since there are doors at both ends, it eases the job of loading and unloading.

Refrigerated ISO Containers

Refrigerated ISO container, also known as reefer, is an intermodal container used to transport temperature-sensitive goods. In this container, the temperature is regulated at a range between -65 °C to 40 °C.

The common goods transported using this container are meat, fruits, vegetables, etc. However, to maintain the temperature setting inside the container, an external power source is required to run this container.

Half Height Containers

This container type is used to transport bulk materials that are very heavy or dense, such as coal, stones, etc. These containers are generally utilised in the mining sector. These containers are made with a lower centre of gravity for easier handling. They are incredibly sturdy and simple to load and unload.

ISO Tanks

These containers are designed to transport liquid material from one place to another. Since these containers carry various liquids, they are made with anti-corrosive material. Not just liquids; these ISO tanks can also be used to carry dry materials and goods like sugar.

The standard filling measure for this container is 80% of its capacity to avoid the spillage of liquid material. These containers are classified into different types: heated hanks, lined tanks, and more.

High Cube Containers

High cube containers, also known as HC containers, are like standard cargo containers but with a slight variation in height. They are generally tall and are higher than the standard cargo containers.

The height difference gives freight forwarders a chance to carry extra loads. Generally, these containers are 40 ft tall but can go up to 45 ft based on the requirement. Some popular types of high cube containers are side-open HC, double-door HC and more.

Car Carriers

Car carriers are the particular type of containers designed to carry the newly manufactured vehicle. This container is made up of solid material. These containers also have collapsible sides, making the unloading and loading of vehicles more accessible.

Drum Containers

These are cylindrical-shaped containers made from steel, plastic and fibre material. These types of containers are utilised to transport granular or liquid material. Further, these are convenient storage for transporting hazardous material.

Special Purpose Containers

Lastly, a special purpose container is a shipping container that can be customised in any shape and size based on the need. This type of container is used by businesses that have special requirements. However, the cost of construction of such containers is hefty.

Benefits of Using Different Types of Shipping Containers in International Shipping

There are several benefits of using different container types and sizes in shipping, such as:

  • By choosing the right kind of shipping container to transport the goods, you can secure the cargo and prevent the risk of damage and theft.

  • Containers come in various shapes and sizes, leading to more efficient cargo handling and transport.

  • Some containers that offer quick loading and unloading of goods save a lot of time and enhance the shipping process.

  • Most of the containers, such as ventilated containers, provide an enhanced layer of security to cargo.

  • Further, if you choose the container type and size, you can optimise the shipping cost, such as flat rack containers that do not require additional handling since the sides are collapsible and ease the unloading and loading process.

  • Lastly, rejected containers can be repurposed for various non-shipping uses, such as storage, offices, housing, and more.

Importance of Having Marine Insurance

Containers are an essential element in the shipping industry since it ensures that the goods are secured. But marine activities, such as shipping goods, can be subject to various uncertainties and risks, including adverse weather conditions, accidents, theft, and other unforeseen events. A marine insurance policy mitigates these risks by providing financial protection against potential losses.

Without marine insurance, a significant loss, such as a vessel sinking or cargo shipment damage, can lead to severe financial setbacks or even business bankruptcy. Further, marine insurance policies available in the market can be customised to suit specific needs. Tata AIG’s marine insurance policy caters to different coverage types, such as damage to goods in transit, losses from accidents at sea, liability claims, and more.


The demand for shipping containers will be around for a while since they are widely used. Many goods have been imported and exported using different shipping containers. The shipping containers available in the market have revolutionised how goods are shipped, stored, and transported, making international trade more efficient and cost-effective.


How many CBMs is a 40-ft container?

A standard 40-ft shipping container typically has a capacity of 67.7 cubic metres (CBM). These containers are commonly referred to as "40-ft high cube" containers.

What are IMO Type 5 containers?

IMO (International Maritime Organisation) Type 5 containers are a classification used to categorise containers suitable for carriage of goods considered dangerous or hazardous materials.

What is the largest size container?

The largest standard-size shipping container commonly used in international shipping is a 53 Ft container.

What is the most common type of shipping container in use?

The most common type of shipping container in use worldwide is the dry storage container. They have standardised dimensions, allowing easy stacking, handling, and transportation on ships, trains and trucks.

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