10 Creative Uses for Retired Shipping Containers Blog

People sitting outside shipping container converted to a food truck

In 1956, the Pan Atlantic Tanker Company revolutionized the intermodal shipping industry by introducing the standardized shipping container. Almost 6 million of these containers are on board a ship, truck, or train somewhere in the world right now. Shipping containers are durable, but they don’t last forever. Fortunately, there are many alternative uses for shipping containers that are no longer fit to carry cargo.

Clever, resourceful people all over the planet have found many ways to repurpose shipping containers. Here are 10 that stand out:

1) Housing

According to the Wall Street Journal, there is currently a worldwide housing shortage. Repurposing a shipping container for housing is a step toward solving this problem. While shipping containers look pretty generic in their native state, architects and designers have found surprising ways to combine them to create luxurious housing at low prices.

2) Mobile Laboratory

Lab tests are essential for everything from medical care to agriculture. Unfortunately, building a fully fledged laboratory requires a significant investment of time and resources. A self-contained laboratory in a shipping container, on the other hand, is easier to set up and can be moved anywhere it’s needed.

3) Wastewater Treatment

All over the world, people are getting sick and dying because they can’t get clean water. Several companies are building miniature wastewater treatment plants into shipping containers for greater accessibility to sanitary water sources.

4) Anywhere Restaurant

Today, food trucks are very popular, proving it’s possible to run a full kitchen in a small space. A restaurant made from a shipping container can go anywhere a food truck can and beyond.

5) Workshop

Shipping containers make fantastic workshops. Just add some power, lighting, and a workbench, and you’re ready to go.

6) Emergency Shelters

Humanitarian crises often go hand in hand with natural disasters. After an earthquake, hurricane, or another weather-related emergency, thousands of people could find themselves with no shelter. Converted shipping containers are easy to transport nearly anywhere in the world, making emergency shelters easily available as needed.

7) Garage

A shipping container can serve as extra garage space for storing yard equipment, old toys, and other items. If you need enough room to hold a car, a few containers put together can make the framework for a larger garage, with a little engineering.

8) Swimming Pool

With some minor modifications, it’s easy to make a shipping container watertight. Once that’s done, simply embed it into the ground and fill it with water.

9) Indoor Garden

Getting enough food to eat is a concern for millions of people across the globe. An indoor hydroponic garden can provide nutritious, fresh vegetables for an entire community.

10) Playground

In a child’s imagination, a cardboard box can become anything from a cave to a spaceship. If a simple cardboard box unlocks this much creativity, imagine how much fun a modified shipping container with a ladder, a slide, and some skylights could be.

Once upon a time, shipping containers revolutionized the freight forwarding industry. As these other uses for shipping containers have shown, there are still new ways for them to make an impact long after their lives on the road are over.

Shipowners Struggle to Find Financing

A row of Cargo ships getting loaded at a busy port

Oceangoing cargo ships are expensive. A ship capable of carrying 500 shipping containers can cost $10 million. A large container ship with room for 20,000 shipping containers may sell for more than $100 million. Even the largest shipping companies may struggle to raise this kind of capital, which has historically made financing the most viable option for shipowners. However, periods of uncertainty and global economic downturn have driven many banks out of the market.

Even the lenders who have stayed in the ship financing market are placing stricter conditions on their loans, a trend driven by increasing government regulation and simple economics. Providing funding for shipowners can be risky—a global recession could put a shipper out of business, or the rising cost of fuel could change shipping costs significantly. Many banks are searching for safer investments.

Alternative Financial Providers

No matter what the global economy and the banking industry are doing, shippers still need ships. When traditional financial institutions are reluctant to foot the bill for ship financing, there is an opportunity for other institutions to step in and fill the gap.

How are today’s shipowners dealing with ship financing struggles? Aside from banks and other traditional lenders, there are two important ways that shippers are raising money:

Private Equity
When you get a loan from a bank, you and the lender must agree on the value of what you’re financing and your collateral. In a specialized industry, this can be difficult. Private equity firms have stepped in to fill this need. These specialized lenders understand the risks, rewards, and volatilities of the shipping industry and plan their investments accordingly.

Any company that needs to raise capital may turn to selling shares of stock. This strategy can work well for large companies, but it has a history of mixed results. Investing in a small shipping company may involve more risk than many investors will accept.

Sustainable Shipping

Corporate responsibility is a serious concern for many businesses. Shipping uses large amounts of fuel and can generate a lot of pollution. This is a problem for many investors concerned about climate change and other environmental damage. Many lenders attach requirements for Economic, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting standards to ensure that shippers are making efforts to operate sustainably.

Protecting Maritime Vessels from Cyberattacks

Cyberattack illustration overlaid on world map

The U.S. Coast Guard has warned that the shipping industry is particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks, which pose a serious concern for maritime logistics. Two incidents occurring in 2019 highlight the vulnerabilities oceangoing vessels now face:

February 2019
The Coast Guard reported that a vessel bound for the Port of New York and New Jersey experienced a cyberattack that significantly impacted their shipboard network. An investigation by a team of maritime cybersecurity experts found that the vessel was operating without appropriate cybersecurity measures in place.

July 2019
The Navigation Center of Excellence reported that a U.S. vessel arriving to a dock in Shanghai experienced a pattern of GPS signal losses that could not be traced to a hardware issue. The vessel master believes GPS jamming is the culprit.

These are not isolated incidents. The cyberattack problem is becoming so serious that experts are recommending a return to traditional navigation methods rather than relying on electronic navigation aids.

What Makes Ships Vulnerable to Cyber Threats?

Several factors put oceangoing ships at an especially high risk for cyberattacks.

Outdated Computer Systems
Oceangoing vessels are designed to operate for many years. Many older ships have outdated computer systems that make them vulnerable to malware attacks.

Dynamic Personnel
A vessel’s crew may change at short notice, forcing inexperienced personnel to operate a computer system they aren’t familiar with.

Excessive Connectivity
Many shipping companies now track all their ships in real time. If criminals defeat the land-based infrastructure that makes this possible, they can feed false information to an entire fleet.

Many experts predict that semi- or fully autonomous vessels will soon be able to deliver cargo around the world. These ships could be vulnerable to cyberattacks if the maritime industry cannot improve its approach to cybersecurity.

Sailing in the Right Direction

Shipping companies and governing bodies are taking electronic interference threats to commercial vessels seriously. Both the ISPS and the ISM will implement improved maritime cybersecurity recommendations in 2021.

When faced with a serious threat like cyberattacks, it’s tempting to make rapid, sweeping changes to regulations and best practices. While the concerns are immediate, rushing into a solution is a mistake—slow and steady progress is the best way to go. Global Shipping Services remains committed to the highest level of security in all freight forwarding endeavors, and we’ll update our practices and technology as necessary to keep your cargo safe against any digital threat.