This study was carried out on the evolution and research trends of container shipping. The shipping industry was transformed by the expansion of international trade and technological innovation, notably containerization, since the 1960s. Accordingly, this was followed by a significant increase in research addressing different aspects of container shipping. Despite such availability, important questions have remained unanswered. To address these questions, the paper undertakes a critical review and analysis on the evolution and trends of research in container shipping in the past four decades, based on a collection of 282 papers investigating different topics in container shipping featuring in major scholarly journals between 1967 and 2012. The study enables the shipping research community to enhance self-understandings and identifies major gaps for further research.



1.1 Background of the study

The shipping industry had been fundamentally transformed by the expansion of international trade, intermodalism, and technological innovations since the 1960s. The use of containers, initiated by Malcom McLean, with the first voyage of the Ideal X in 1956 carrying the first container between American ports, served as one of the, if not the, most important milestones. Since then, the growth of international trade increased the demands, and thus capacities, for container shipping services. The improvements of service quality and cost efficiency in the container sector also facilitated cargo flow, leading to further growth in a global merchandize trade. Container shipping gradually spread to every corner of the world and by the time when this study took place, most general cargoes are carried in containers. Indeed, the effective provision of container facilities and services is considered to be an important attribute in deciding the competitiveness of ship operators. Also, this led to the emergence of new carriers and the extension of logistics services. Extended control over the logistics chain and the quest for efficiency call for enormous capital investment and multimodal integration (Ng 2012), leading to the restructuring of the shipping industry.

Not surprisingly, the fundamental transformation of shipping was followed by a significant increase in research works addressing different aspects of shipping, especially in the past two decades. Such abundance was illustrated by the wide availability of shipping research papers published within this period. Indeed, shipping research in the past four decades was a kaleido- scope consisting of a wide range of interesting, diversified topics. This ranged from operations (e.g., route schedule design problem, turnaround time, and vessel size), management (e.g., organizational governance and seafarers), and economics (e.g., pricing, demand, and supply) to sustainable development (e.g., safety, reducing greenhouse gas emission, and impacts on regional economy). With such a comprehensive research profile, however, it is surprising that, after so many years, a systematic study on the evolution and research trends of shipping research is still found wanting, despite that the shipping industry had already undergone such a rapid transformation since the 1970s. Such transformations include, for instance, the continual increase of container ship size, the formation of strategic shipping alliances, the establishment of maritime logistics and global supply chains, the breaking down of liner shipping conference, and a variety of others.

As mentioned earlier, shipping in the past several decades was characterized by the increasingly popular use of containers for most general cargoes, of which in most cases is accompanied with liner shipping offering fixed, publicized schedules and routings between particular ports (Ng 2006). With more than 80% of the world’s traded cargoes being carried by ships (Ng and Liu 2010), a thorough understanding of the past and current trends of container shipping research is extremely important to the future well- being of the global and regional economic development.