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Cargo transport by sea is by far the cheapest per kilogram per kilometre moved relative to the other major forms of transport used by other humanitarian agencies, and is convenient for bulky pre-planned consignments. Sea transport is unfortunately also one of the slowest methods of delivering cargo as well. Sea transport will likely not be used to service immediate needs in rapid on-set disasters, and is more appropriate for pre-positioning or to serve post disaster and longer term needs. 

Common Terms in Sea Transport

Shipping Container

A standard predefined set of containerised shipping units that are used throughout all sea shipments.  Shipping containers come in many variations to meet the needs of different shipments. Containers also have unique container numbers that can be tracked, and when in movement containers will be sealed using industry standard container seals. The vast majority of containers come in 20 foot and 40 foot dimensions.

Full Container Load (FCL)

A volume of cargo from a single party or consignment capable of filling an entire shipping container.

Less Than Container Load (LCL)

A volume of cargo from a single party or consignment not capable of filling an entire shipping container.

Twenty Equivalent Unit (TEU) / 

Short hand for identifying a measure of volume equivalent to the container size and identifying slot space on a dock or a ship. One 20-foot container is equal 1 TEU.

Forty Equivalent Unit (FEU)

Short hand for identifying a measure of volume equivalent to the container size and identifying slot space on a dock or a ship. One 40-foot container is equal 1 FEU or 2 TEUs.

Port of Loading (POL)

The port at which a cargo is loaded onto a vessel and disembarks.

Port of Discharge (POD)

The port at which a vessel arrives and unloads cargo.

Direct Service

Vessel Schedule wherein cargo is loaded/unloaded from the same vessel.

Transhipment Service

A shipment where a container changes multiple ships throughout the transport, where cargo is offloaded at another port to connect to the vessel destined to the final point of delivery. There can be a single transhipment or multiple transhipments.

Live Load / Unload

When a forwarder or transport company sends or drops a container at a shipper’s facility and waits for the container to be loaded / unloaded without leaving within a stipulated period of time.

Drop and Pick

When a forwarder or transport company leaves a container at a shipper’s facility for one or more days without being present for the loading / unloading.

Stripping

Removing contents from a container, either at the port or consignee’s location. May or may not involve breaking the container seal; a container may be opened prior to delivery for a variety of reasons including inspection and breaking down of a consolidated consignment. Also sometimes called destuffing or devanning.

Stuffing

Loading a container for shipping, at a container freight station, consignees’ location or consolidation warehouse somewhere in the middle. Sealing the container may or may not occur at point of stuffing.

Shipside / Quayside

Storage and handling of cargo occurring at a port alongside or near a sea transport vessel.

Berth

A designated location in a port where a vessel can park and moor, usually along the long edge of a ship to provide safe and easy offloading. Maritime vessels vary dramatically in size, both in length and depth under the water they may draft, so berthing space must be designated by a port captain or port official, and must match the needs of the vessel.

On Deck Stowage

The placement of cargo and containers stored on the surface deck of a ship for the duration of the transport. On deck refers to anything above below deck storage with free access to the air above the boat, however on deck storage might still start below the upper rim of the vessel.

Below Deck Stowage


The placement of cargo below the main deck of a shipping vessel.


Bulk Carrier

A vessel specially designed to transport unpackaged bulk cargo, such as grains, coal, ore, steel coils and cement, in its cargo hold(s). Bulk carriers are ideal for transport of grain or loose materials that may be removed with special equipment on the receiving end. Frequently, bulk carriers will require re-bagging on the receiving end of the shipment.

Break Bulk

Cargo transported in large, unitised quantities not contained in a standard shipping container. Break bulk cargo may be items like large machine parts, construction materials or even vehicles, and can be stored in specialised below deck compartments.

RoRo

Any vessel that has capacity for vehicles to “Roll on / Roll off.” Might include regular vehicle ferry service, but also many long haul ships may have this capability.

Stevedore

A dock worker engaged with loading, offloading and management of maritime shipping activities.

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Due to the sheer number of individual shippers that may be sending cargo on a single vessel, it’s extremely unlikely any one vessel will be departing from and arriving at the exact destination specified by the shipper. Cargo shipped via sea faring vessel will frequently use transshipment transhipment service, being  offloaded and reloaded onto two or more vessels while en route, staying in a secure port in between loadings while waiting for the correct vessel heading the correct destination. The linkages of a transshipment transhipment service are worked out by brokers and forwarders on behalf of the shipper, and shippers usually don’t get involved with routing, only becoming involved with cargo at the final destination.

Containerisation / Loose Item – The preferred method of shipping via sea is the use of containerisation units. Shipping containers, through their standardised construction, fit onto a wide variety of sea faring freight vessels. Containers are usually sealed at the POL, and as such can switch between multiple vessels and ports while en route with minimal risk of tampering or theft. Generally, shippers should seek to maximise their shipments by trying to reach a whole number of either 20 foot (TEU) or 40 foot (FEU) container or containers. Loads smaller than a full container load (FCL) might have to wait until a full container load is available, otherwise shippers might have to rely on what is known as “consolidation,” or sharing of one container with one or more other shippers. Consolidation Less than container load (LCL) cargo using consolidation might require waiting to find another shipper or shippers going to the same final destination as you. Consolidation also does not allow for fully unopened containers to be delivered to a consignee’s facility as the cargo will need to be broken down and separated at the port, which increases the chances of loss or theft.

Special items such as generators, vehicles that cannot fit into a container, or special handling containers like refrigerated containers (reefers) may also be transshipped transhipped using two or more vessels. For oversized or bulky items, they may also be shipped by the piece, however there may be fewer available vessels with the right stowage space heading to the correct locations, which might drive up costs and slow down the entire process of shipping.

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