The transport of huge amounts of small aquatic organisms in the ballast tanks and at the hull of large cargo ships leads to ever increasing rates of marine bioinvasion. In this study, we apply a network theoretic approach to examine the introduction of invasive species into new ports by global shipping. This is the first stage of the invasion process where it is still possible to intervene with regulating measures. We compile a selection of widely used and newly developed network properties and apply these to analyse the structure and spread characteristics of the directed and weighted global cargo ship network (GCSN). Our results reveal that the GCSN is highly efficient, shows small world characteristics and is positive assortative, indicating that quick spread of invasive organisms between ports is likely. The GCSN shows strong community structure and contains two large communities, the Atlantic and Pacific trading groups. Ports that appear as connector hubs and are of high centralities are the Suez and Panama Canal, Singapore and Shanghai. Furthermore, from robustness analyses and the network’s percolation behaviour, we evaluate differences of onboard and in-port ballast water treatment, set them into context with previous studies and advise bioinvasion management strategies.