Today, 18% of the global ocean cargo is moved thanks to shipping containers, container vessels, and container ports or terminals. But how do containers ports work?
Container ports can be gigantic like the Shanghai container port through which over 40 000 000 TEUs* pass each year or small local single quays possibly relying on the gears (cranes) of the arriving vessel for the loading operations.
They can be fully automated – calling upon automated cranes, handling and repositioning equipment – or can rely on a qualified workforce operating specialized equipment and cranes.
The way in which ports operate will differ grandly in function of their size, available equipment, and operating strategy – nevertheless, there are some commonly used operating methods some of which we attempt to bring to life in the below simplified animation of a container terminal, container port, and some of its loading, unloading, and container storage activities.
This animation is for illustrative purposes only and is not to scale.
This container port animation is an extract of our How ports work – 35 minutes online course. Get it for $4.99 using the 5main coupon.
*TEU – Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit – a unit of measurement representing a 20ft container, typically used to measure the capacity of a container vessel or yard or to measure the container related activity levels.
A 40ft container (by far, the most commonly used type) is logically equivalent to 2 TEUs.
Example 1 – the vessel HMM Algeciras, the world’s largest container vessel in 2021, has a theoretical capacity of 23,964 TEUs, meaning it could theoretically accommodate up to nearly 24,000 20ft containers or the equivalent in various container sizes.
Example 2 – the port of Antwerp handled 12,031,469 TEUs in 2020, meaning that over 12 million 20ft container or the equivalent in various size were loaded (6.3 M TEU) or unloaded (5.7 M TEU) in this port – source.
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