What Was The First Purpose-Built Container Ship?

The fast-moving world of heavy equipment shipping has seen the construction of ever-larger vessels with the capacity and ability to carry more and heavier loads than ever before, with this record being broken every year.

The record for the most shipping containers loaded onto a single ship was the Ever Ace in August 2021, but as long as sea freight demand continues at the pace it has seen for decades, this record is likely to be broken very quickly.

One of the biggest developments in shipping is the development of containerisation, which is where bulk and break-bulk cargo would be stored in standardised shipping containers as opposed to being loaded, lashed, unlashed and unloaded one piece at a time.

For break-bulk cargo especially (finished or manufactured items), this would have the effect of drastically reducing costs and time.

However, despite the system being prototyped in 1766 in the form of James Brindley’s Starvationer and first used in a form resembling the container ships we see today in 1931 with Southern Railway’s Autocarrier, the first purpose-built would take over 30 years to reach the seas.

After the Second World War, the vast majority of container vessels were converted T2 oil tankers, which included the Ideal X, the first successful container ship rebuilt by Malcolm McLean from an oil tanker into a container ship.

However, the first purpose-built container ship designed to be fully cellular and remove the holds, hatches and dividers of traditional cargo ships was the MV Kooringa, launched in February 1964 by the Australian Associated Steamships company, in partnership with McIlwraith, McEacharn & Co.

It was the first container ship designed to be loaded and unloaded simultaneously, meaning that its 10,000 tons of cargo could be unloaded and reloaded in just 36 hours, considerably less time than even other container vessels of the time, let alone loose cargo ships.