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The Resurgence of Freighter Cruising

The Resurgence of Freighter Cruising

One of the most unique travelling experiences to be had in this day and age might be taking a trip as a passenger on board a cargo vessel. While it is true that today, you can travel to most destinations across the globe within a span of twenty-four hours, more and more travellers worldwide are starting to seek a journey rather than a destination.

IMO dedicates a theme for each year and in the past, embarking on such a journey was an exciting adventure, with opportunities to hop aboard a “banana boat” or a tramp steamer as easily as booking an airline ticket today. Regular passenger services were available to any desired destination, and if one lacked the funds for the fare, convincing the captain to enroll them as a deckhand was also a possibility. Those days were the golden age of freighter travel.

Up until the late 1950s, travel by cargo ship was quite commonplace. However, with the introduction of the non-stop flights, it quickly fell out of favour. Additionally, the introduction of containers revolutionised the transport industry. With the majority of cargo now being shipped in standard 20′ or 40′ containers, ports all over the world could unload goods swiftly, replacing the labour-intensive process of manual handling.

The rise of air travel in the 1960s led to the most significant decline in passenger numbers for shipping lines. To adapt and survive, the industry underwent drastic changes, giving birth to the modern cruise industry. Instead of being solely a way to reach destinations, cruise lines began offering people entertainment and vacation experiences, making the voyage itself the main attraction

Rolling with the rapid changes, freighter ships also continued to operate worldwide, but their focus was primarily on the cargo side of the business. The new ships had limited cabin space available, typically reserved for ship officers and crew, with perhaps an owner’s cabin if a member of the shipping line was onboard. However, with advances in technology, starting from the 1980’s, the number of crew members needed on board has decreased significantly.

At the same time, there has been a growing appetite for unique and offbeat vacation ideas. People are seeking experiences that go beyond the usual tourist destinations, yearning for experiences that are truly extraordinary. The idea of embarking on a lengthy voyage lasting months is no longer seen as a drawback; rather, it has become the very essence of the experience for many travellers. This is exemplified by the remarkable journey of Thor Pedersen, who in May 2023, became the first person to visit all 193 countries without using air travel. Pedersen’s final leg took him to the Maldives aboard a cargo vessel.

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His story beautifully encapsulates the shift in travel preferences, where the journey itself becomes the destination, offering adventure and a rare opportunity to form a deeper connection with the natural world. Another significant demographic trend shaping the landscape of travel is the rising number of active and affluent seniors who are prioritising experiences over accumulating wealth.

When we combine these factors, we find ourselves on the cusp of a potential boom in freighter cruising. Specialist travel agencies have recognised the untapped potential of vacant cabin spaces and have successfully convinced shipping lines to market them to eager adventurers. It is an exciting prospect with considerable potential.

Author: Asy

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