A merchant vessel or trading vessel is a boat or ship that transports cargo or carries passengers for hire. This does not include pleasure craft that do not carry passengers for hire. Warships are also not considered to be merchant ships.
They come in large number of sizes and shapes. They range from twenty-foot inflatable dive boats in Hawaii, to 5,000 passenger casino vessels on the Mississippi River. They include tugboats working in New York Harbor, to 1,000 foot oil tankers and container ships.
Some of the more common types are:
- Bulk carriers - These carry items such as ore, grain, cement and other kinds of bulk cargo. This type makes up 40% of the world's merchant fleets.
- Container ships - They are ocean-going ships that carry goods in large containers. They did not come into use until the 1960s, but are now the standard form of shipping manufactured goods worldwide.
- Passenger ships - Are either pleasure (such as a cruise ships) or carry passengers on regular scheduled routes (such as a ferry).
- Tanker - Ships that carry bulk liquid cargo such as oil, liquefied natural gas, and chemicals are called tankers.
- Fishing vessel - Catch and often process fish for food.
- Offshore Vessels - Are used to transport people, goods and supplies to offshore oil platforms.
Most countries of the world operate fleets of merchant ships. However, due to the high costs of operations, today these fleets are in many cases sailing under the flags of other nations. These are countries that specialize in providing manpower and services at very good terms. Such flags are known as "flags of convenience". Currently, Liberia and Panama are two of the most popular flags of convenience. Ownership of the vessels can be by any country, however.
Today, Japan and Greece are two of the largest merchant fleets by capacity. In 2014, the two countries shipped about 30% of the world's tonnage. However, China is now the nation that owns the most merchant ships.
- The term "commercial vessel" is defined by the United States Coast Guard as "any vessel (i.e. boat or ship) engaged in commercial trade or that carries passengers for hire".
- In English, "Merchant Navy" is usually used to refer to the British Merchant Navy.
- The United States merchant fleet is known as the United States Merchant Marine.
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