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Types of Cargo Ships

When it comes to seafreight cargo, there are a variety of cargo ships and modes of shipping based on the cargoes available..

Container Vessels – is currently the most common mode of transport used for carrying 20′, 40′ and 45′ containers.. More details on size/type and usage of containers will follow in another article.. These come in various capacities ranging from about 85 teus (twenty equivalent units) to 15,000+ teus.. The biggest currently being the Emma Maersk..

Bulk Vessels – Used for the carriage of bulk commodities like wheat, sulphur, iron ore, coal etc etc..

Breakbulk Vessels – Used for the carriage of various kinds of cargoes – bagged cargo (cement, sugar etc), palletised cargo (paint, chemicals etc), timber etc etc

Ro-Ro Vessels – Used for the carriage of wheeled cargo like cars, buses, trucks, exacavators etc etc.. Where the option is available, these vsls can also carry some project cargoes as long as these are loaded on mafi trailers or any other wheeled modes.. Further classified as PCC (Pure Car Carriers) & PCTC (Pure Car & Truck Carriers) the purpose of which are obvious from the names..

Multi-purpose Vessels – Used for the carriage of a combination of above cargoes.. Very versatile, popular and useful vessels specially along certain routes which require self-geared vessels and do not have shore handling facilities..

Tanker Vessels – Used for the carriage of various liquid cargoes like oil, chemicals etc..

Crude Carriers – Used for the carriage of (you guessed it) crude oil – further classified as  VLCC (Very large Crude Carriers) and ULCC (Ultra large Crude Carriers)

LNG Carriers – Used for the carriage of Liquified Natural Gas..

Reefer Vessel – Used for the carriage of frozen cargoes or temperature controlled cargoes like fruits, meat, fish etc..

Cargo ships are classified under different categories based on their size, dimension and weight..

Most common classifications (at the time of this post) are :

  • Handy size, ships weighing between 28,000-40,000 DWT
  • Handymax, ships weighing between 40,000-50,000 DWT
  • Panamax, the largest size of ship which can pass through the Panama Canal – DWT of between 60,000 to 80,000 tons
  • Aframax, generally tankers weighing between 75,000 and 115,000 DWT
  • Suezmax, the largest size of ship which can pass through the Suez Canal – DWT of around 150,000 tons
  • Malaccamax, the largest size of ship which can navigate through the Malacca Straits – would have a DWT of ideally between 280000 to 300,000 tons in terms of container ships
  • Capesize, vessels larger than Panamax and Suezmax, which cannot pass through either the Panama Canal or Suez Canal and has to pass through the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn – above 150,000 long tons in DWT
  • VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier), supertankers between 150,000 and 320,000 DWT
  • ULCC (Ultra Large Crude Carrier), supertankers between 320,000 and 550,000 DWT
  • Seawaymax, the largest size of ship that can fit through the canal locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway – has a DWT of between 10,000 to 60,000 tons
Hariesh Manaadiar
Hariesh Manaadiar
I am Hariesh Manaadiar, the Founder of Shipping and Freight Resource.. I have been in the dynamic shipping and freight industry for over three decades and have worked in several sectors.. I share my experiences and knowledge of the industry through this blog for those looking for help in the industry.. Stay subscribed for more free useful content about shipping, freight, maritime, logistics, supply chain and trade..


  1. Dear Hariesh
    Thank you for your tireless effort of educating us on Shipping & freight. Could you kindly tell me if you can sed me Tallyman program for training as ppt or doc file.
    Thank you again
    Great Regards.

  2. Dear Hariesh, Thank you for your article! May I ask you how to find a dimension of ship very similar to SeawayMax class but with height not 35,5 meters but 35,0 meters? (half a meter lower)… I understand that not all ships that can use the St. Lawrence Seaway are 35,5 meters in height, but can not find a specific examples. Maybe you know how to find such information?

  3. Dear Hariesh, Thank you for your tireless effort of educating us on Shipping & freight. Could you kindly tell me what does it mean by Post Panamax vessel?

    • Hello Iranius, Panamax refers to the size of the ships that could exactly fit through the Panama Canal.. Post Panamax refers to ships that exceed the width limit of the Panama Canal of 32.2m.. In terms of container ships the Post Panamax vessels had a capacity of upto 8000 TEUs as compared to the 3300-4500 TEUs of a Panamax vessel..

  4. Good day

    Thank you for such spectacular classification which is very usefull. Believe there should be mentioned also:

    LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gaz) Carriers. The gaz they carry is propane and butane under very high pressure while LNG are involved in methange shipments using a very powerfull refrigerating system.

    As I know the vessels mentioned as Seawaymax are often called “Lakers”. The second name of Handymax is Supramax. Recently the bulkers of 80-100K tns dwt are mentioned as Komsormax or like that, I’m not sure for 100%, do you know something abt this?

    • thank you for your tireless effort of educating ,tell me for ship of cargo ,i’m engeeniering mach.. and my like everiting .


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