*Ninety Percent of Everything*

by on August 14, 2013 at 3:43 pm in Books, Economics, Food and Drink, History, Law | Permalink

The author is Rose George and the subtitle is Inside Shipping, The Invisible Industry that Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate.  Here is one excerpt:

The biggest container ship can carry fifteen thousand boxes.  It can hold 746 million bananas, one for every European..

And here is one other part:

EU-NAVFOR releases 80 percent of detained pirates because it can’t find willing courts.

Here is the book’s home page.

1 Rahul August 14, 2013 at 4:33 pm

If you did indeed fill a container ship with bananas, would you be volume limited or weight limited? I wonder…..

2 Handle August 14, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Relatedly, does a container filled with bananas float?

Forget Musk’s hyperloop; how about hyper-container-loop, with some kind of pontoon floating track system. Buoyant Banana Boxes a Bonus!

3 Hillary August 14, 2013 at 8:52 pm

My favorite fruit shipping anecdote (can you guess what I do for work?)- there are apple containers and banana containers, and never the twain shall meet. Apple off gassing turns bananas brown.

4 spandrell August 16, 2013 at 12:07 am

AFAIK in ocean shipping 1 cbm = 1 ton of cargo. I’d say it’s pretty much even for bananas.

5 Alan August 14, 2013 at 4:45 pm

If the naval vessels are just going to release the pirates anyway, maybe they should do it before heading back to shore.

6 Alexei Sadeski August 15, 2013 at 12:34 am

I believe that some do.

7 Alexei Sadeski August 15, 2013 at 12:35 am

Some do, I believe.

8 mdv1959 August 15, 2013 at 7:02 am

So you’re saying that you think some do? 🙂

9 Rob August 15, 2013 at 8:35 am

I’m not sure if your’ve considered the possibility, but perhaps some do?

10 dan1111 August 15, 2013 at 9:47 am


11 JCE August 14, 2013 at 4:59 pm

it seems that it deals with pretty much the same subject as this other book http://www.amazon.com/The-Box-Shipping-Container-Smaller/dp/0691136408/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_nC?ie=UTF8&colid=9C4S29OZGNCO&coliid=I36GMU3XRZ9895

which one would you say is better?

12 KO August 14, 2013 at 7:17 pm

That would be good to know – though of course Tyler would say read them both of course, along with 2 dozen other books on shipping!

13 Dan August 19, 2013 at 10:28 am

“The Box” spends most time on companies, ports and labor disputes involved in the start of container transport in the US. There’s little detail on Asia, or more broadly on the global impact of containers. It’s a fun quick read, and good on what it covers, but isn’t as wide-ranging as you might expect.

14 dearieme August 14, 2013 at 4:59 pm

“It can hold 746 million bananas”: jeeze, that’s a lot of radiation there.

15 Madhu August 14, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Apparently the Fukushima leak equalled 76m bananas! That’s one heck of a dangerous ship then.

16 glory August 14, 2013 at 5:01 pm

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/dbc97a06-033d-11e3-b871-00144feab7de.html – “The Yong Sheng is the first Chinese cargo ship to try travelling from Dalian in northeast China to Rotterdam by the Northern Sea Route – the Arctic waterway that follows Russia’s northern shore. Commercial traffic along this path is only in its fifth season but its growth has been explosive. In 2009 and 2010, a handful of tankers took the route; in 2011 and 2012, three to four dozen. So far this year, Russia has granted permission for nearly 400 passages. The route’s attraction is clear. It shortens the distance between the port cities of Rotterdam and Yokohama by 40 per cent compared with journeys via the Suez Canal.”

17 JCE August 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm

it seems that the boko deals with pretty much the same subject as this one http://www.amazon.com/The-Box-Shipping-Container-Smaller/dp/0691136408/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_nC?ie=UTF8&colid=9C4S29OZGNCO&coliid=I36GMU3XRZ9895

any clue as to which might be better?

18 Dead or In Jail August 15, 2013 at 9:39 am

I came here to aks the same question.

HerrDoktorPerfesser Tyler Cowen, Ph.D: You must satisfy!

19 kiwi dave August 14, 2013 at 5:14 pm

The biggest container ship can carry fifteen thousand boxes. It can hold 746 million bananas, one for every European one one ship.

They need to. Since the average EU resident consumes around 10kg of bananas per year, that’s about five million metric tons of bananas they need to import. Assuming an average banana weight of 100 grams, that’s about 50 billion bananas. So there must be the equivalent of almost 70 of these gigantic container ships coming into the EU every year, for just one commodity. The numbers soon get mind-boggling.

20 Steve-O August 14, 2013 at 7:46 pm

The average EU resident consumes 100 bananas a year (10kg of bananas / 100g/banana)?

That seems very high, unless bananas are an ingredient in sweeteners or other processed foods.

21 Nikki August 14, 2013 at 8:38 pm

That’s two bananas per week, how is that high? They are available year round, cheap, delicious, convenient as a snack on the go, low-calorie, go into pretty much every smoothie since they complement many other fruits and berries nicely, etc. About three per day, that’s more realistic.

22 Dick King August 15, 2013 at 8:23 pm

I suspect bananas are bigger than 100g. I’ll weigh one tonight when I get home.

23 marcus August 14, 2013 at 5:28 pm

The European Union Naval Force Somalia (EU-NAVFOR-ATALANTA) is officially a ‘military’ action (not police).
Civilian courts don’t mesh well with warfare and the military.

One would have thought the EU leadership had considered what their forces would actually do to/with the ‘pirates’ when they ordered their military guys to go-get’em. Apparently not.

The EU should look to the US for extra-judicial inspiration– establish a GITMO like facility in Corsica or somewhere.
Or just follow the Drone-Sanction approach… where prisoners are never ever a problem or worry at all.

24 LawProf August 14, 2013 at 5:49 pm

There’s universal jurisdiction for pirates, so courts refusing jurisdiction are violating a core tenet of international law dating back thousands of years. It’s as bad as a beligerent nation killing the ambassador of a nation they just invaded!

25 Rahul August 15, 2013 at 3:55 am

I wonder what exactly do the courts say. Do they formally claim they don’t have jurisdiction?

@marcus: Why are civilian courts involved at all? I assumed a captured pirate would face either an admiralty court or a court martial.

26 Andreas Baumann August 15, 2013 at 10:39 am

The problem is that if you take in the pirates, who are often Somalis, to prosecute them, you end up with them being legally unable to send them to Somalia after serving the sentence because of the state of Somalia. So essentially, you’ve imported a Somalian pirate.

27 Rahul August 15, 2013 at 3:56 pm

One would hope a sentence long enough to have someone else worry about that by the time they are released.

Who knows, perhaps Somalia will be a better state, by then.

28 Dave Barnes August 14, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Aren’t captured pirates supposed to “walk the plank”?

29 glory August 14, 2013 at 5:44 pm

http://kottke.org/13/08/the-economic-and-cultural-dominance-of-filipino-sailors – “the practice of penis augmentation by Filipino sailors is part of the culture that keeps them the dominant group in the competitive shipping industry”

30 Nikki August 14, 2013 at 5:54 pm

In fact, the biggest ones — Maersk Triple E class ships — can carry more than 18,000 boxes each. And there’s nothing invisible about the industry.

31 Rahul August 15, 2013 at 12:10 am

Factor in the fact that these ships have a typical crew of 20 that’s about effectively 35 million bananas handled / crew.

No wonder the world faces employment stagnation.

32 George August 14, 2013 at 6:35 pm


From some rough calcs I would guess volume controlled.
Max cargo capacity of a standard 20 ft. shipping container is approximately 48,000 lbs. (http://www.foreign-trade.com/reference/ocean.cfm)
Assuming a 5 oz banana @ 746 Million @ 15,000 containers comes to about 15,500 lbs per container.

So the containers are not efficiently packed based on weight.
Note: I assumed 20 ft. container since it was conservative and because according to wikipedia cargo ships are ranked in capacity by terms of “TEC” or twenty-foot equivalent units.

33 Rahul August 15, 2013 at 12:05 am

I reached similar conclusions.

OTOH, is a 15,000 TEU container ship really rated to carry 15,000 all-max-weight containers at any one voyage? I suppose that’d be a very wasteful design assumption.

PS. With 15,000 TEU, you are stuck in 2008. 🙂 Aren’t we now at almost 18,000 TEU?

34 George August 15, 2013 at 9:29 am

I would imagine the cargo ships would try to pack as much of it up as possible since the more goods it caries the more someone is paying. So, I would be more worried about over weight containers. However, I think the engineers probably put a safety factor on the weight of the containers when designing the ship.

Small anecdotal segway. One of my former professors was asked to analyze a bridge leading to a trash dump. So they instrumented the bridge and found that trash trucks were coming in at 230,000 lbs when the legal limit was 150,000 lbs. This was because the trash dump was incentivized to minimize trips by loading up as much as possible. So, the bridge was overstressed but overall it was fine if I remember correctly.

But yeah on my search I found bigger cargo ships too but I figured I’d go with the numbers at hand.

p.s. The economy is doing so well right now! I have property in Las Vegas I’m hoping to retire on!

-2008 (;

35 Rahul August 15, 2013 at 4:00 pm

“So, I would be more worried about over weight containers.”

With a lot of cargo types it’d be hard to hit the full rated weight of a container, no matter how tightly you pack. e.g, clothes, Asian toys, plastic trinkets etc.

36 George August 16, 2013 at 11:15 am

That’s true but I can imagine people thinking something along the lines of:
“What’s a couple extra containers? Just have to strap them down and we’ll be good. I mean they’re not all filled to capacity anyway.”

Then weight starts to add up. I’m not sure how well regulated the shipping industry is honestly so I’m more or less being cynical.

37 Marie August 14, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Forget health care, I guess I’ll tell my kids to go into shipping.

38 Andrew` August 15, 2013 at 5:11 am

Evacuated tubes my girl, evacuated tubes.

39 Marie August 15, 2013 at 8:42 am

Darn, already all in on plastics. . . .

40 jon livesey August 15, 2013 at 6:24 pm

“The biggest container ship can carry fifteen thousand boxes. It can hold 746 million bananas, one for every European.”

But, of course, only if they are straight bananas.

41 James Plunkett August 16, 2013 at 8:42 am

Another brilliant book on this topic is John McPhee’s Looking for a Ship: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Looking-Ship-John-Mcphee/dp/0374523193 Fascinating account of the US Merchant Marine from one of the great non-fiction writers.

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