Book about a box

An interesting book, a stocking stuffer perhaps…

On the road and inside the box
Janet Porter, October 2007 Lloyds List

WHAT an exotic life the humble container enjoys. Yes, that’s right, that oblong metal box that to many represents the least glamorous side of shipping.
Boxships, their decks piled high with anonymous containers full of everyday consumer goods and confined to scheduled services, have never captured the public’s imagination in the way that supertankers or luxury passenger liners have. Numerous attempts by container lines over the years to raise their profile and impress on the outside world that globalisation would be impossible without this vast network of regular and reliable shipping services have generally fizzled out. Now NYK of Japan has taken up the challenge with a book that traces one particular container as it criss-crosses the world carrying an assortment of cargoes from alarm clocks and electric pianos to whisky, pharmaceuticals, coffee beans and more.
Around the World in 40 Feet follows the progress of Box NYKU596070-1 on its epic 125,000 km voyage as it sets off from Shenzhen with a consignment of household items such as dinner place mats and barbecue tongs, finally returning to that part of the world 200 days later when the container is discharged at Yokohama after calls in all six continents. “The movement of a shipping container is, for most of us, a crucial yet unexciting part of our business,” NYK senior managing director Hiroyuki Shimizu frankly admits in the foreward to book. “Around the World in 40 Feet provides us all with a wonderful opportunity to see things differently.”
And it certainly does, with British writer Richard Cook and Canadian photographer Marcus Oleniuk bringing to life an adventure that goes largely unnoticed by those who barely give the container revolution a second thought until caught behind a slow moving truck completing the final leg of a door-to-door delivery that has brought goods to a local department store from the other side of the world. For Cook and Oleniuk the book started out as “a vague, almost comic idea,” but one that, “through a combination of our blind determination and the far-sighted vision of NYK’s senior management, eventually became reality”. The project also brought the pair into contact with the unsung heroes of the global economy, seafarers. “No matter the nationality or rank, all of the countless NYK mariners we crossed paths with — and often inconvenienced with eccentric requests as they tried to carry out their daily tasks — showed us nothing but hospitality and respect,” Cook and Oleniuk recall from their long and often gruelling project.
But the real star of the show is Box NYKU596070-1 as, on the first leg of its circumnavigation, it is loaded aboard NYK Kai in Hong Kong and heads off across the Pacific, where it arrives in Los Angeles 12 days later. There its contents are transferred to a domestic trailer and on to a train that will eventually deliver the merchandise to a distribution centre in Knoxville. The container, meanwhile, picks up a cargo of raw cotton, is loaded on to NYK Libra and heads back across the Pacific to Singapore where it is transhipped on to a small feeder bound for Indonesia.
Next comes a consignment of electric pianos to be shipped from Jakarta, through the “surreal” Suez Canal, for final delivery in what, to the British reader at least, may seem the least glitzy of destinations, Milton Keynes. By then it is Day 57 of the trip, and 48 hours later the pianos will be on display in a central London music store. There is no rest, however, for Box NYKU596070-1, which is soon on a windswept dock in Clydeport ready to be packed with 20,000 bottles of 12-year-old whisky to be exported to Thailand.
In Bangkok microwave ovens are stuffed into the container for a voyage across the Java Sea and through the Selat Sunda Channel, along the eastern edge of the Indian Ocean and on to the Australian ports of Fremantle and Sydney. Thirty days later the container is still in Australia, waiting to be loaded with 28,224 bottles of chardonnay for the Netherlands market.
Day 131 finds the container back in Singapore and being transferred to a Europe-bound ship, NYK Lynx, arriving at NYK’s Ceres Paragon terminal in Amsterdam for discharge before being moved to Germany to be crammed with drums of pharmaceuticals and barged back to Rotterdam, then hoisted on to the Cape Charles for a transatlantic crossing to a freezing New York. Soon, though, the container is heading south to the warmer climes of Brazil on Day 169 of this marathon with a cargo of resin compound.
From Santos the container transits the South Atlantic packed with 440 bags of unroasted coffee beans. The ship runs into congestion outside Durban in South Africa and has to anchor for a couple of days before a berth comes free, but there are few complaints with beautiful weather to enjoy, giant turtles to watch and a family of whales basking nearby.

Finally the container is heading north on the final leg of this journey, arriving in Yokohama on Day 200 and filling the air with the aromatic smell of coffee as its valuable cargo is discharged. The book not only throws light on the hugely complex web of multilateral trade, with a clear illustration of what different countries export, but also shows how much effort goes on behind the scenes to deliver goods to market in the timely, efficient and no-nonsense manner that we all take so much for granted. At each stage of the voyage Cook interviews and Oleniuk photograghs those responsible for making sure these supply chains that stretch half way round the world do not fracture.

As for Box NYKU596070-1, there was just time for a wash, fresh coat of paint and minor repair to a small dent in one corner. Then, as maintenance welder Toshio Kosugi remarked, “It is good for another few thousand kilometres.” Check out the book at Amazon

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