“You still enjoy our prison?”
On November 2019, I embarked on a container ship journey from Singapore to Istanbul through the Suez Canal. It was a trip I had been dreaming off for years and years and one which not everyone seemed to share my enthusiasm for.
Talking about something for years is one thing of course. People are more likely to be kind when your peculiar idea is just a fantasy. But tell them you have “secured passage” (yes, I may have used this expression quite a bit) and that you have a set date and that is when you may get this lethal, one-word response.
There is nothing wrong with the question of course, but it’s almost impossible to answer!
When someone announces they are visiting Bali or embarking on a train journey across Europe, we don’t necessarily first lead with “why”, do we? Instead, we wish them a pleasant trip and ask them to keep us updated. We might be curious as to what led a person to pick one destination over another but it does not lead into a philosophical or existential discussion on the reasoning behind a decision.
But if you announce you are sailing on a merchant vessel prepare for some deep and profound discussions. Not only from friends and family but guess what, also the people that work on the container ship.
What Are Some Reasons People Travel By Container Ship
- Avoiding The Internet
There are some answers that will prove sufficient with certain groups of people. Not all of them work equally well, however. And almost none of them will work with the crew and officers of a container ship. The only logical explanation must be that you are crazy. That is something you have to accept.
. . .
Travelling by cargo ship to offset your carbon emissions or as an alternative to flying, whether you don’t want to or can’t is not a new idea. A flight between Singapore to Istanbul, similar to crossing the Atlantic, will equal to you contributing a bit over one ton of CO2. Alternatively, jumping on a container ship for four weeks is only about 10 kg.
The idea is that carbon emissions are here calculated according to passenger weight and kilometre travelled. So, even if on the whole the shipping industry makes up 2% of the total CO2 emissions on the planet (equivalent to that of a country like Germany), it still offers one of the lowest carbon-emitting transport options per kilometre when compared to that of aviation.
Shipping 10/15 g/tkm
Flying 673-867 g/tkm
Of course, both journeys will go on to make this trip regardless of whether you are on it or not. The additional weight you add on a container ship, however, is minuscule in comparison to that of a plane.
. . .
Avoiding The Internet
This became my go-to answer and the most well-accepted by all. Maybe we all like to hate technology? Or find it endearing when a millennial puts their phone down for a moment? Either or, this was the answer that seemed to satisfy everyone, except the crew on board of course.
With the exception of having access to an email address, I had no internet onboard. This will probably vary according to the company, but there was the option of buying internet at 80$ per GB.
Yeah, that price is correct!
If I was ever tempted to break my internet fast and logging in for some mindless scrolling on social media, the price kept me on team no-WiFi for the whole duration.
The e-mail address created for me, which I could access on the shared computer on the bridge or the chief’s office, was enough to send short emails to friends and family back home and letting them know I was still alive.
When your whole work-life is tightly woven with access to the internet, shutting down shop for four weeks and knowing there is no way for someone to penetrate your little bubble of relaxing bliss is the best feeling in the world.
. . .
Some people choose this mode of transport for research purposes. What kind of research, you ask? While not confirmed by anyone specifically, it seems that shipping companies may send in investigators that portray themselves as guests in order to report back on safety procedures and protocols onboard the ship.
Some guys told me this was the reason crew members are hesitant to discuss freely with passengers until they are certain there will be no spilling of secrets. Frankly, I am honoured someone thought my not at all scary or intimidating face could be a mask for a “spy”. Whether this is just a story to keep people in line or an actual practice I don’t know, but it would be a very good reason while you have to be on one of these things.
Now, this is my personal opinion, but unless you are researching the shipping industry, this is not a conducive environment for other sorts of writing. Even if you are writing a fiction novel, chances are you need some access to the internet! So if you are dreaming of sailing away for a few weeks to finish your manuscript, maybe think again about how important the internet is to the idea of research!
. . .
In general, most people will travel by container ship because of the sheer epicness of the journey and the experience of embarking on an adventure across the sea. Life on a cargo vessel may not be fancy, but it is a cool story to tell your grandchildren one day and for those of us that have no connection to the sea, a great opportunity to witness how 90% of all our goods get transported to us.
From your bananas to your Japanese tuna, your electronics, to your car, its petrol and your house furniture, everything we buy and own has probably been in one of these vessels. How cool and scary is that?
My one main reason for choosing to travel by container ship was the experience. That semi-romantic notion of life at sea and all the creativity that it can release, what with having no internet and all. Can’t explain that to a group of seafarers, though. I spend hours looking over the bridge at the Suez Canal and was always eager to wake up early to catch the sunrise. (which I did not accomplish by the way).
But for them? Just another day going through the desert with the same boring scenery. What can you say!
. . .
In the end, there really is no good answer as to why someone may want to travel by container ship. It is all part of the thrill and the adventure. It is either something that seems exciting to you or your worst nightmare! Whatever your choice, it will never sound completely sane, so just go ahead and book that trip!