Cargo Ship vs Container Ship (Explained)

What is a cargo ship?

Cargo ships are also referred to as freight ships. This kind of ship carries oil, mineral products, or raw materials from one port to another port.

How many different kinds of cargo ships?

Based on different types of cargoes the ship carried. Cargo ships can be categorized as:

Tank ships

Tank ships carry liquid products such as oil, chemicals. Tank ships have several tanks, so one ship can carry the same product like oil or different chemicals.

General cargo ships

The majority of cargo ships are general dry cargo ships. General cargo ships can carry any dry bulk or breakbulk cargo. The most popular items that general cargo ships move are grain, mineral, construction materials, etc.

Temperature control cargo ships

Temperature-controlled cargo ships or refer ships can keep the temperature low. This kind of cargo ship are most suitable for food, perishable items, or even pharmaceutic items.

Roll on Roll off ships

Roll on Roll off ships also called Ro-Ro ships are best to transfer heavy machines, tractors, farm equipment, etc. These machines are too heavy to move or even by crane. It is much easier to drive it on the ship. RO-RO ships are a great fit for heavy machines, cars.

How many crew members are on a cargo ship?

It depends on the size of the ship. The number of workers ranges from 20 to 100 or sometimes more than this depending upon other requirements.

Generally speaking, a cargo ship should have 20 to 30 crew members. 2 or 3 cooks and stewards in the kitchen. 4 to 5 people are masters, engineers oversee each deck. Most crew members are deckhands, oilers, miscellaneous seamen

How fast can a cargo ship go?

The speed of any ship is measured in Knots including cargo ships.  1 knot equals to 1.15 miles per hours.

A fully loaded Cargo ship typically travels at 15~20 knots per hour. The average speed for tankers is around 10 ~ 15 knots (11.5~17.2 miles per hour). The average speed for bulk carriers is roughly 13 ~15 knots (15~17.26 miles per hour).

Cargo ship’s average speed ranges between 15 and 40 knots per hour. The small lightship can go as fast as 80 knots per hour, but heavy, bulk cargo ships seldom go as fast as 40 knots per hour.

Small lightships don’t need much power to push through the water because they are small and light. But heavy cargo ships need a lot to shift themselves.

Does cargo ship have wifi?

Yes, cargo ships have internet through satellite. Its internet is slow, but can still be used for short communication or otherwise.

What is a container ship?

Container ship also belongs to the cargo ship category. Container ships only transport containerized cargoes.

The size of different container ships

Container ships are measured by how many TEUs they can carry. 1 TEU is equal to one 20′ container. The more containers a container ship can carry, the bigger its size. Nowadays people start building container ships bigger and bigger. The more containers a container ship can carry, the average operating cost for one container going to get lower and lower. Both shipowners and shippers like the lower freight cost, so they have more profit.

Ultra-large container ships can carry more than 20,000 TEUs

Very large container ships are able to transport between 10,000 to 20,000 TEUs

Middle size container ships typical can move between 3000 to 10,000 TEUs

Small size container ships also called feeders can fetch between 1000 to 3000 TEUs

How many crew members on a container ship?

Most container ships have 20~30 crews on board. Half of the crews are engineers, mechanics and the rest are miscellaneous crew members.

How fast can a container ship go?

Based on that Most containerships are designed to travel at speeds around 24 knots, that comes to 43 km/hr. indicated that knot, a measure of the speed at sea, is equal to one nautical mile per hour, exactly 1.852 km/h.

The big container ships that carry heavy weight travel at 23 knots (26.5 miles an hour) at best, and barely 17 knots in heavy weather.

Some container ships prefer to move around 18 knots (20.7miles per hour), so they can save fuel by running the ship under full capacity.

Similarities of a cargo ship and container ship


Both cargo ships and container ships are merchant ships. They both carry cargoes or freight.

Cargo ships carry mostly bulk items. The most popular items are grain, mineral products, construction products, machines, cars, etc.

Container ships also carry freight but all freight inside containers. Items inside containers can be small items like shoes, hats, or big items like furniture, etc.


There are many types of cargo ships based on the cargo they carry, such as tanker ships, dry cargo ships, refer ships, ro-ro ships.

There is only one type of container ship. People name container ships differently such as ULCV (ultra-large container vessel), VLCV (very large container vessel), feeder, only differentiate their capacity, but they have the same function- transport containers from port to port.


Both cargo ships and container ships have internet through satellite

Differences of cargo ship and container ship


Container ships are relatively faster than other types of cargo ships such as Bulk Carriers and Tankers. Container ships are made to sail faster than other cargo vessels because they run on a very tight schedule. The average container ship’s speed is 22 knots (25mp/h), and once a while they can speed up to 40 knots (46mp/h).

The Cargo ship’s average speed is 15~20 knots. Tanker ships and general bulk vessels move around 15 knots (17.26mp/h).


The majority of container ships travel internationally. Cargo ships move freight locally and internationally.

Usage pointed out that roughly 90% of non-bulk cargo worldwide is transported by container ships

With the pandemic and port congestion issues, people saw more and more cargo ships being used by shipping containers.

Because big container ships have to use deep water ports such as the port of New York, new Jersey on east coast, the port of los Angeles, and port of long beach on west coast. so these ports have many vessels in the queue to dock. Many businesses such as Amazon, and Walmart chart small cargo ships that previously shipped grain or cars to ship their containers. Once they charter the ships, they can dock at the less crowded port such as the port of Houston, or the port of Chester to unload quickly.