Waterborne transport remains fundamental to the global economy. While the proportion of freight carried by inland waterways is relatively modest – with 6% in Europe, 9% in the USA and 11% in China – the unrivalled efficiency of sea transport means that 90% of all world trade is moved on water. In Britain, 20% of domestic freight and 95% of international freight is carried by ship.
Furthermore, waterborne transport has a lower environmental impact per freight tonne than any other existing transport mode. It thus offers the most sustainable option for meeting the world's ever increasing demand for transport capacity. Extensive new port and channel infrastructure – including terminals, berths, ramps, cranes, breakwaters, buoys, lights and locks – are being planned and built by civil engineers throughout the world.
Until relatively recently, overland travel in most parts of the world was dangerous, difficult and slow. Ships of many kinds have been transporting goods and cultures across the oceans of the world and along the rivers and canals of the continents for centuries. It is no coincidence that most major cities are next to navigable water. Although other forms of transport have emerged over the past 200 years, sometimes eclipsing the pre-eminence of water, anyone standing close to a modern container ship, tanker or bulk carrier cannot fail to be aware that waterborne transport is still the engine of international trade.