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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The World of the Container Ship

A beautifully written and thoroughly absorbing book review

Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate

by Rose George
Metropolitan, 287 pp., $28.00

Reviewed by Maya Jasanoff, fresh from her own voyage on the biggest container ship in the world.

It begins:

"Imagine the Empire State Building. Now imagine tipping it on its side, nudging it into the Hudson, and putting out to sea. That was the scale of thing I contemplated one day in late November, as I gaped at the immense navy hull of CMA CGM Christophe Colomb, one of the world’s largest container ships, which stretched above and out of sight on either side of me, on a quayside in Hong Kong. Nearly twelve hundred feet long, it’s bigger than an aircraft carrier and longer than the world’s largest cruise ships. On Christophe Colomb, all of that space goes to boxes. The ship has a capacity of 13,344 TEUs—“twenty-foot equivalent units,” the size of a standard shipping container (although most containers today are forty feet in length). These are stacked seven high above deck and another six to eight below. In cheerful shades of turquoise, maroon, navy, gold, and green, they look like a set of Legos designed for a young giant.
"Trying to see where one even boards such a vessel, I noticed a steep aluminum gangway and went up its seventy-four steps, through two hatches, and into the eight-story “castle” that sits above the main deck and houses the ship’s living quarters, offices, and bridge. This was to be my home for nearly four weeks, as I took passage on Christophe Colomb from Hong Kong to Southampton, England, via the Suez Canal."
Jasanoff intersperses her thoughtful and congratulatory review of the book with memories of her own experiences.  Like cruise ships today, the firms that own and run these huge sea-going trucks use Filipino manpower.  I found her descriptions of her shipmates particularly heart-warming.  And what strange, isolated lives they lead.
Thoroughly recommended reading, so hit the link at the top.  Now I must hunt down the book ....

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