Page last updated at 11:41 GMT, Friday, 17 October 2008 12:41 UK

The Box arrives in Singapore

By Jonathan Gordon
BBC News, Singapore

From the Suez Canal to South East Asia, the Box - a BBC-branded container that travels the globe to illustrate how globalisation is affecting us all - has made its way across the Arabian ocean in good time.

Copenhagen Express captain Sanjeev Kaushal
The cost of fuel is a concern for captain Sanjeev Kaushal

It has landed here on the island nation of Singapore aboard the MV Copenhagen Express.

This is a routine stop over - hundreds of shipping crates are unloaded while new ones are hoisted in to replace them.

The Box lies deep in the ship's hull, buried somewhere among 1500 of its metallic comrades.

German Chemicals and frozen pork may be among its neighbouring boxes, although the crew cannot be sure.

Security through obscurity is part of how the shipping business works.

Economic storm

Ships like this have the capacity for three thousand such boxes - and many have run full in the past couple years as a commodity boom railed on.

The global economic slowdown, however, has cut into shipment volumes across the industry.

Singapore has been especially hard hit, with freight rates falling to six-year lows and local shipping companies seeing their share prices freefall.

Exports have now declined for their fifth straight month, with local electronic and pharmaceutical manufacturers struggling to find an international market anywhere for their goods.

Attractive cargo

The infamy of the Box has complicated affairs for Copenhagen Express captain Sanjeev Kaushal.

Copenhagen Express captain Sanjeev Kaushal
We sailors have our own whisky on board
Copenhagen Express captain Sanjeev Kaushal

Readers who have been following the story of the Box will know of the precious Scotch whisky consigned to the container for the first stage of its voyage.

But it was breaking news to the crew.

When eager family members emailed a couple sailors onboard to query on their cargo, word spread like wildfire.

So Captain Kaushal found himself a little more worried than usual.

"I've had to have someone watch the box", said the captain. "I've told the crew to lock it up."

Costly fuel

But what about pirates? The Box, with its live GPS tracking on the internet, has literally put his ship on the map.

Containers in Singapore
Docking fees are high for container ships

And while the neighbouring straits of Malacca are no longer the brigand-infested waters they once were, piracy is no joke.

The latest ship-jacking off Somalia serves as a stark reminder of the dangers commercial vessels face.

The captain says his worries tend more towards the price of a barrel of crude.

To save money, shipping companies are slowing down their boats. This translates into slower arrival and pick-up times for the world's cargo.

Some shippers now say they may even drydock some boats until demand recovers.

Safe cargo

But the whisky must go on. Cargo ships never stay long in any major port, with docking fees in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Next stop for the whisky is Shanghai, a good four days away.

The Box stops there, but the captain will steam on to Xiamen as part of his circular route that will eventually take it back to Southampton.

With Chinese ports experiencing a similar slowdown, the ship's crew can expect a warm welcome from anxious operators.

And as Captain Kaushal gets ready for the next leg of the journey, he flashes a wry smile.

"The cargo will be fine," he says.

"We sailors have our own whisky on board."

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