Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

How to Haul 182 Million iPads

A single voyage could supply the world with tablets for almost three years

If New York's iconic Chrysler Building could float, its size would rival that of the Morten Maersk, one of the largest cargo ships ever built. It's a behemoth born of globalization.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Owned by Danish shipping line Maersk and pictured here at Felixstowe, England, the vessel can carry 18,000 twenty-foot containers. That's enough to move 111 million pairs of sneakers. Or 182 million iPads, almost three years of Apple's worldwide sales, in a single voyage.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Manned by a crew of 22, the Morten Maersk is one of a class of 20 built at Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Co. in South Korea.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe

The first was delivered in 2013, and the last will leave drydock this summer.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The superlatives themselves fail to give a sense of its scale, at 400 meters (1,312 feet). When fully laden, the containers would stretch 110 kilometers (68 miles). The vessel is built from 60,000 tons of steel -- more than eight times the weight of metal in the Eiffel Tower.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Even more striking than its size is the pace at which at container ships have grown to meet the needs of world trade. In 1997, Maersk's largest ship carried just 8,100 containers, or less than half as many as this giant.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The container, which became widespread at the world's ports in the 1970s, was the innovation that made globalization possible.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Containers carry 90 percent of all goods in world trade. For every 100 boxes loaded on the Morten Maersk in China, 20 will hold electronic appliances and kitchenware, 10 carry clothes and textiles and five toys and games. The rest will be a jumble of goods.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The voyage from Shanghai to Felixstowe takes about three weeks. Once jammed with cargo, its boxes are relatively empty on the return voyage to China.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg