Merchant ship

Historical merchant trading ship: a Dutch fluyt cargo vessel from the late 17th-century

A merchant ship, merchant vessel, trading vessel, or merchantman is a watercraft that transports cargo or carries passengers for hire. This is in contrast to pleasure craft, which are used for personal recreation, and naval ships, which are used for military purposes.

They come in myriad sizes and shapes, from twenty-foot inflatable dive boats in Hawaii, to 5,000 passenger casino vessels on the Mississippi River, to tugboats plying New York Harbor, to 1,000 foot oil tankers and container ships at major ports, to passenger-carrying submarines in the Caribbean.[1]

Most countries of the world operate fleets of merchant ships. However, due to the high costs of operations, today these fleets are in many cases sailing under the flags of nations that specialize in providing manpower and services at favourable terms. Such flags are known as "flags of convenience". Currently, Liberia and Panama are particularly favoured. Ownership of the vessels can be by any country, however.

The Greek merchant marine is the largest in the world. Today, the Greek fleet accounts for some 16 per cent of the world's tonnage; this makes it currently the largest single international merchant fleet in the world, albeit not the largest in history.[2]

During wars, merchant ships may be used as auxiliaries to the navies of their respective countries, and are called upon to deliver military personnel and materiel.


The term "commercial vessel" is defined by the United States Coast Guard as any vessel (i.e. boat or ship) engaged in commercial trade or that carries passengers for hire.

In English, "Merchant Navy" without further clarification is used to refer to the British Merchant Navy; the United States merchant fleet is known as the United States Merchant Marine.

Other Languages
العربية: سفينة تجارية
български: Търговски кораб
bosanski: Trgovački brod
čeština: Obchodní loď
Deutsch: Handelsschiff
Ελληνικά: Εμπορικό πλοίο
español: Buque mercante
Esperanto: Komerca ŝipo
한국어: 상선
hrvatski: Trgovački brod
Bahasa Indonesia: Kapal niaga
italiano: Nave mercantile
lietuvių: Prekinis laivas
norsk nynorsk: Handelsskip
Simple English: Merchant vessel
slovenščina: Trgovska ladja
српски / srpski: Trgovački brod
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Trgovački brod
svenska: Handelsfartyg
українська: Торговельне судно
粵語: 商船