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The Starting Line

The Starting Line

How it all starts

Trade is basic to shipping. A settlement or country that produces more than it needs of a commodity will trade it for something it does not produce. These commodities can be almost anything: wine or watches, olive oil or crude oil, coal or carpets, bananas or Boeing aircraft. If it has to cross water, this trade needs some sort of craft. That craft needs someone to pay for its building. It must have someone to appoint experienced navigators and seamen to sail it. Someone must ensure it is repaired if it gets damaged. Someone must decide what ports it will run between and make sure there is enough cargo. It needs merchants to be able to find markets for what the ship carries.

From shipowner to shipping company

Originally, an individual or a group of individuals took on the functions listed. Sometimes they banded together as companies, for instance the East India Company, and were given particular powers by the government to trade with a certain area. In the early 19th Century these companies were gradually dissolved as it was felt their monopolies were not good for the country. Individual shipowners then became important again.

Goods stored in warehouse at Southampton Western Docks

Magnifying glassGoods stored in a warehouse at Southampton`s Western Docks

As ships became bigger and more expensive - especially with the advent of steam engines and iron hulls - their cost became too much for individuals. The shipping business became more complex, too. More and more commodities were traded. Governments also began to regulate trade and the shipping industry. Individuals were concerned about limiting their liability in the event of an accident to their ship, or a disaster to their business. All these factors meant ships came to be controlled by shipping companies rather than individuals. In the 19th Century, this was made easier by legislation that made it possible to set up limited liability companies.


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