Evolution And Research Trends Of Container Shipping
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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.
Table Of Contents
- Table of Content
- 1.1 Background of the study
- 1.2 Statement of the problem
- 1.3 Objectives of the study
- 1.4 Research questions
- 1.5 Significance of the study
- 1.6 Scope of the study
- 2.1 Conceptual framework
- 2.2 Current status and trends in world shipping
- 2.2.1 Overview of the world shipping industry.
- 2.2.2 Trends in ship types and features.
- 2.2.3. Trends in shipping economics
- 2.2.5 Overview of shipping markets–the current trend
- 2.2.6 The global evolution of containerization
- 2.2.7 Ownership of merchant navy fleet
- 2.2.8 Importance of maritime trade in Nigeria’s economy
- 4.1 Research topics
- 4.2 Research cooperation and geographical focus
- 4.3 Research methodologies
- 4.4 Discussions
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.
1.2 Statement of the problem
The scarcity of review on shipping research represents a stark contrast to its close counterpart, namely port. In the past several years, a number of review studies analyzing the evolution and trends of port research had been undertaken by researchers from diversiﬁed backgrounds, with Pallis, Vitsounis, and de Langen (2010), Woo et al. (2011), and Ng (2013) being illustrative examples. By looking from different angles (and applying different methodologies, both quantitative and qualitative), they together offered a very comprehensive picture illustrating how the changing global and regional economies, as well as the shipping industry, affected the behavior and the structure of the port research community. In addition, they proposed constructive opinions on the future of port research through identifying the major research gaps, loopholes, and challenges.
All these efforts can offer signiﬁcant contributions in helping port researchers to identify how they can contribute to the future well-being of the port sector and economy, and simultaneously provide constructive insight to future port research.
With major changes in the shipping industry in the past decades, there is also a need for a systematic study reviewing the evolution and trends of shipping research. Although Woo et al. (2013) reviewed the research themes within the maritime ﬁeld in the past decades, they only restricted to one (albeit a leading one within the maritime ﬁeld) journal, namely Maritime Policy & Management (MPM). In addition, their analysis was very general instead of dedicated to a particular sector within the maritime industries, like shipping. A signiﬁcant research gap clearly exists.
1.3 Objectives of the study
The main objective of the study is to analyze the evolution and research trends of container shipping, using qualitative and analytical methods.
The following are the specific objectives of the study:
- To examine the major contributions that the research community has made to the container shipping industry, global and regional economies.
- To find out if their contributions has been skewed towards particular themes, directions, and geographical areas.
- To find out what the shipping research community can learn from the evolution and trends of container shipping research so that they can continue to contribute to the well-being of the global and regional economies.
1.4 Research questions
- What are the major contributions that the research community has made to the container shipping industry, global and regional economies?
- Have their contributions been skewed towards particular themes, directions, and geographical areas?
- What can the shipping research community learn from the evolution and trends of container shipping research so that they can continue to contribute to the well-being of the global and regional economies?
1.5 Significance of the study
A research work on such a sensitive matter on the evolution and research trends of container shipping, is therefore at this time a necessity. The need to provide a lasting solution to the problem of underdevelopment, abject poverty, tribal clashes, Niger Delta Youth economic growth scenario, management of our abundant natural work is therefore a task that must be done and hence a justification for this research work. Hence, this study is significant.
1.6 Scope of the study
This study used container shipping as the study focus. The study undertakes a critical analysis on the evolution and development of shipping research in the past four decades. This is based on 282 papers (co)authored by 202 authors addressing various aspects of container shipping, including operations, management, and economics, featured in 31 internationally recognized scholarly journals between 1967 and 2012.
Despite the wide availability of research in container shipping since the 1960s, important questions had remained unanswered among the shipping research community. This paper undertook a critical analysis on the evolution and research trends of container shipping based on 282 papers addressing different aspects of container shipping, including operations, management, and economics, published in 31 scholarly journals between 1967 and 2012.
Research in container shipping was largely skewed towards the East-West Axis which consisted of the major economic powerhouses of East Asia, Europe, and North America, while topics were dominated by issues related to the practical, daily shipping activities. In the past two decades, shipping research had gradually become a ‘normal science’ which offered routine, standard application (Kuhn 1962) mainly to fulfill the practical, operational needs of the shipping industry itself. During this process, the community seemed to move away from enriching and contributing to mainstream theoretical discussion, as well as how the research community can contribute to the well-being of the whole human kind, rather than just a particular industrial sector.
Although research on container shipping was initially dominated by a qualitative approach, it was increasingly edged out by the quantitative revolution, especially since the turn of the century. This was coincided by the rapid increase of contribution from researchers coming from East Asian universities and institutions. Finally, it was found that it was always a significant challenge for shipping researchers in obtaining reliable data for research. Thus, the authors believed that national authorities, associations, and intergovernmental organizations should undertake more leadership in providing and/or generating more reliable data so as to encourage further innovative and quality research in container shipping.
There is little doubt that achievements have been made by shipping researchers in the past decades. Nevertheless, there are still significant research gaps yet to be filled, and some key issues are illustrated here. First, why has such a core-peripheral system been established, even in the past decade with the rapid progress in information technology, advanced communication channel, globalization, and research collaboration? Is the research community becoming too narrow-minded and only attempting to provide solutions to big industrial players—the emphasis on the so-called ‘applied research’? Undeniably, container shipping is a practical sector which often requires good solutions to improve its practices. Thus, contributions from shipping researchers would certainly generate the necessary add-values. Nevertheless, being global citizens, and the international nature of container shipping, researchers might need to move beyond just that and extend to areas which can benefit the well-being of the community as a whole. This is especially true with the emergence of global equality and social justice, climate change, and environmental concern. If it were indeed the case, what can be the solutions to encourage more research on issues like shipping and regional development, as well as the use of shipping in promoting sustainability? Inevitably, this raises a moral, and indeed philosophical, reflection for researchers: is such a direction by the research community reflects the academic ‘life’ that individual researchers, and indeed the community itself, are really looking for in the pursuit of the well-being of the world nowadays, as well as the future?
Moreover, while more econometric and statistical investigations would contribute to the better understanding of container shipping, with insufficient comprehensive and detailed data, this would not be possible. In this case, how can national and intergovernmental organizations help researchers to gain access to relevant data for research on such topics? At the same time, what can scholarly journals and their editors do so as to encourage publications from other regions, as well as other topics which have, until now, been overlooked? Today, collaboration among researchers alone may not be sufficient, and researchers, policy-makers and industrial practitioners need to work together so as to address this problem. For instance, although some researchers have expressed their concerns over the low capital return and excessive capacity in the container shipping industry, there is no good explanation yet on why there have always been continued investments into this sector. Economic cycle and resulting shipping business cycle are now textbook knowledge. Yet, there are still no good theories in the discipline explaining why shipping lines tend to overinvest in fleet persistently. In fact, the claim of ‘excessive capacity’ has not been rigorously tested yet. The market dynamics in the shipping market are far from clear, which calls for novel research on this issue. Finally, international economics and trade economics are well-developed disciplines. Yet, few studies have analyzed the effects of international trade on shipping line performances. Trade growth in East Asia, notably in China and South Korea, has clearly contributed to their container shipping industries. However, few studies have quantified such positive effects, and its implications to carriers and regulators in other regions. In addition, few cost-and-benefit investigations are available to quantify the contribution of shipping lines to economic development. If this problem cannot be addressed in the long term, it will limit the shipping industry’s ability in lobbying for more government supports.
This study is a pioneer attempt to offer a systematic review and analysis on the evolution and research trends of shipping. By doing so, it helps the shipping research community to enhance self-understandings, and reflects on the question on what to, why, and how to pursuit the well-being of the academic community, industry, and indeed the world, through quality research. The authors strongly believe that their ideas will initiate a new wave of research in frontier topics not only with high impacts to the shipping industry, but also to the global economy and society’s well-being in the near future. The best is yet to come.
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