This paper presents a simple formulation in the form of a pipe network for modelling the global container-shipping network. The cost-efficiency and movement-patterns of the current container-shipping network have been investigated using heuristic methods. The model is able to reproduce the overall incomes, costs, and container movement patterns for the industry as well as for the individual shipping lines and ports. It was found that the cost of repositioning empties is 27% of the total world fleet running cost and that overcapacity continues to be a problem. The model is computationally efficient. Implemented in the Java language, it takes one minute to run a full-scale network on a Pentium IV computer.