Sea Cargo Transportation Term Paper 8 pages



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Ocean freight companies have been transporting goods across the seas, from continent to continent, as cost effectively as possible for many years. Ocean freight shipping can help a company’s bottom line if their product is non-perishable and is not time sensitive. Ocean shipping can be used whether a business is looking to export its goods, or import goods for use or resale. Deciding on the right ocean freight company to use can be complicated. There are customs rules and regulations that have to be taken into consideration, along with a long list of other factors that don’t come into play when standard air shipping methods are used. In order to start using ocean freight one should start by looking at how automobile manufacturers take advantage of ocean transport for their vehicles. Ocean freight shipping is the way in which cars are imported and exported, and it provides a great example of the complete process. One should take advantage of ocean transport online calculators in order to run quotes to see what kind of pricing they would be looking at. And one should scan ocean freight companies’ websites in order to gain additional resources and hints (Davis, n.d.).

The competition that exists between the modes has produced a transport system that is very segmented in nature. Each mode has tried to take advantage of its own rewards in terms of cost, service, reliability and safety. Carriers have tried to keep business by take full advantage of the line-haul that is under their control. Each mode would see the other modes as competitors that were seen with suspicion and distrust. The lack of combination between the modes was also highlighted by public policy that had frequently barred companies from holding firms in other modes. This was the case in the United States before deregulation. In Europe modes were often placed under direct state monopoly control. Modalism was also favored because of the difficulties of transferring goods from one mode to another, thereby incurring additional terminal costs and delays. Intermodalism originated in maritime transportation, with the development of the container in the late 1960’s and has since spread to incorporate other modes. It was no surprise that the maritime sector was the first mode to use containerization. It was the mode most inhibited by the time taken to load and unload the vessels. A conventional break-bulk cargo ship could end up spending as much time in port as it did at sea. Containerization permits the automated handling of cargoes of varied types and dimensions that are placed into boxes of standard sizes. In this way goods that might have taken days to be loaded or unloaded from a ship can now be handled in a matter of minutes (Rodrigue, Slack and Comtois, 2010).

Over the last forty years major efforts have been made to join together separate transport systems through intermodalism. What originally began as an improvement process regarding the productivity of shipping developed into an integrated supply chain management system across modes. This entails the use of at least two different modes during a trip from origin to destination. Intermodality progresses the economic feat of a transport chain by utilizing modes as efficiently as possible. This allows the line-haul economies of rail to be exploited for long distances, with the efficiencies of trucks providing flexible local pick up and delivery. The key is that the entire trip is seen as a whole, rather than as a series of legs, each marked by an individual operation with separate sets of documentation and rates (Rodrigue, Slack and Comtois, 2010).

Ever since the 1960s, the cargo-handling industry has experienced tremendous modifications. As early as the 1940s, mechanized cargo handling started to take place in North America. Its expansion during the 1960s and the containerization movement during the 1970s brought about huge changes in worker activities, costs, and productivity (Marine cargo handling, 2010). The three kinds of cargo that were being processed included break-bulk, bulk, and containerized. Break-bulk general cargo vessels totaled 21% of the world’s shipping by gross registered tonnage (GRT). These cargo ships were self-sustaining in regards to cargo handling. This meant that they did not need on-shore handling equipment in order to operate. Quite a few ships even carried their own containers in order to function at ports that were lacking adequate handling equipment. These types of ships included tramps, coasters along with cargo liners. Handling break-bulk cargo was normally labor intensive and time consuming, requiring the movement of sheds close to the berth and the availability of equipment for lifting and moving cargo. Aboard the ship, moving cargo usually consisted of making slings or trays and carrying or hauling heavy cargo into the center of the hatch in order to remove it from the ship. Movement of break-bulk cargo required extra caution when pipes, plates, and other awkward loads or dangerous materials had to be transported. Use of forklift trucks and mobile cranes, both introduced to most ports during the 1960s, was fundamental in removing much of the hard labor from onshore cargo handling. Bulk cargo vessels ranged from 50,000 to 150,000 deadweight tons (DWT), and most of the larger modern vessels were without cargo-lifting equipment. “These kinds of vessels included bulk carriers, ore carriers, timber carriers, and combination carriers for ore and oil, and for ore, dry bulk, or oil. Bulk cargoes such as ore, coal, coke, bauxite, sand, and salt once were handled using buckets, scoops, and baskets. Bulk terminals often processed a combination of products such as grain, wood chips, and scrap metal, while others housed a single product such as iron ore, copper ore, or minerals” (Marine cargo handling, 2010). Liquid bulk cargo such as crude oil and petroleum products made up more than 40% of the cargo being transported by sea. Handling of liquid bulk was almost completely automated, thus necessitating restricted manpower (Marine cargo handling, 2010).

Containerized cargo has come about because of the advancement of standardized modular containers used for transporting bulk goods. Standardization has integrated the maximum weight of individual containers, specific lifting points along with regular shapes. Due to containerization, a lot of the handling equipment in ports around the world has become highly consistent. Most manufactured goods and key products are transported by containers. There are only a small amount of very large items that are excluded, but even logs and timber can be carried in specially designed containers. Even though standard in size, containers have been built using an assortment of materials. Some containers can be refrigerated, heated or ventilated, while others can be specially equipped to handle almost any kind of cargo. The use of standardized containers has managed to reduce the time that is necessary to load and unload vessels. This has increased productivity and reduced port labor requirements. As container systems have become more widely established, the pace and quantity of cargo handling has continued to increase (Marine cargo handling, 2010).

Due to the fairly recent deregulation of the sea cargo industry, carriers are now employing private contracts with shippers instead of using the same contract for all shippers. The span of a contract is characteristically six months to a year. There is an opportunity, therefore, for carriers to act strategically about several of their activities including pricing and equipment/capacity management (Sea Cargo Logistics, 2003).

Lately, international transportation organizations have been under a growing pressure to support the mounting demands of international trade. This could never have occurred if it weren’t for substantial technical improvements that have permitted the transport of larger quantities of freight and people, both more quickly and efficiently. Given that containers and intermodal transportation improve the efficiency of global allotment, a growing amount of general cargo is being moved globally by containers. As a result, transportation is often thought of as an enabling factor that is not automatically the cause of international trade, but a factor that without globalization could not have ever occurred (Rodrigue, n.d.).

Due to the fact that the geographical scale of the global economy, most international freight travels over several modes. It is important for transport chains to be established in order to service these requirements which reinforce the importance of transportation modes and terminals at planned locations. International trade requires allocation infrastructures that can sustain its volume and extent. There are two transportation modes that specifically support globalization and international trade. These are maritime and air transportation. Road and railways account for an insignificant share of international transportation since they far outweigh all modes for national or regional transport services (Rodrigue, n.d.).

The expansion of maritime transportation has been spurred on by many issues. First, there is an increase in energy and mineral cargoes derived from a growing demand of industrial (mainly Europe, North America and Japan) and industrializing nations. Second, the international division of the production and trade liberalization permitted by globalization has resulted in additional demands for long distance trade, which is mainly supported by maritime transportation. Third, improvements in ship and maritime terminals have facilitated the flows of freight, particularly containerized traffic (Rodrigue, n.d.).

Having the most profound impact on containerization and cargo-handling operations were the number of huge containerships that came online in the mid-1990s. In order to replace wasteful ships, meet shippers’ demands, and maximize loads, larger, faster and more efficient containerships began to be introduced. The largest, dubbed super containers or post-Panamax vessels were engineered to carry 4,000 to 5,000 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs), rather than the most prevalent generation capacity of 3,000 to 3,400 TEUs. These large vessels have a force on land operations such as on-dock rail services and intermodal connections. Additionally, cranes must have a broad enough reach in order to stretch across as many as six containers (Marine cargo handling, 2010).

Many ports across the world have begun to gear up for the anticipated growth in container traffic, which is thought to likely increase for all of the world’s major trades. Trade with Asia and Latin America has been projected to grow the fastest. Container traffic between Europe and Asia is thought to going to expand at a faster rate than the U.S. – Asian route. A more uncertain region was South America. Many ports located there lack planning, financing, or room for expansion. These factors, coupled with a recent trade boom, caused a shipping bottleneck. Nevertheless, North American along with South American volumes were expected to continue to grow at a respectable rate. In particular, American shippers saw an end to the double-digit growth in cargo traffic to South America, due to the anticipated entry of global carriers, accompanied by fears of overcapacity and falling freight rates. Unlike the South American ports, those in the United States and Europe are well equipped to handle increased container traffic and should not require large investments. However, some observers foresee increased competition among the European ports (Marine cargo handling, 2010).

In the meantime, the labor unions geared up for the internationalization of shipping lines and increased containerized cargo traffic. Since both of these factors posed a frightening threat to future longshoremen employment, ILWU officials met with labor delegates from 15 Pacific Rim nations in San Francisco in 1993 to investigate the possibility of international solidarity among shipping employees. One suggested way of showing international labor support was that when one union came under attack by a particular company, other unions through their operations with that company would send a message of protest. Sympathy strikes and boycotts are generally prohibited in the United States, but other forms of protest are allowed (Marine cargo handling, 2010).

Widespread introduction of computers affected all forms of port activities and extended into every sector of cargo handling. A number of ports in North America and Europe introduced computers for office administration tasks, such as payroll and accounting. Several ports applied computers to the actual work of container control and cargo clearance, and they also developed their own information retrieval systems. Computers eventually were used for all aspects of port operation, and in the not too distant future, containerized cargo might be electronically inspected for damage, logged in by some type of electronic or laser-sensing device, coded, and recorded by computer (Marine cargo handling, 2010).

Today the world economy has become very globalized. The economic system is shifting from one with distinct local and national markets, separated by trade barriers, distance, time, and culture, to one that is increasingly converging and integrating into a global economy. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States was the world’s leading trader in 1998, accounting for about one billion tons of ocean-bound trade out of about 2.4 billion tons of total foreign trade. In 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately $736 billion of goods were shipped via ocean vessels and passed through U.S. ports. By 2020, international trade is estimated to more than double (by weight) within the United States, with the majority of this trade projected to move via ocean shipping (Transportation, 2010).

The United States reliance on seas and waterways has been vital to its economic success and national security. The pool of skilled labor working on U.S. flag vessels is also a national security asset. This workforce is relied upon to meet surges in shipping needs in the advent of emergencies. The merchant marine has played a historical role in military conflicts. In 1996, the Maritime Security Act established the maritime security program to support a fleet of U.S. commercial vessels with American crews to support the military and economic security of the country; approximately 47 vessels participate in this program (Transportation, 2010).

The inland waterways are also a national security asset. The 1920 Jones Act required domestic waterborne commerce to be transported in vessels built in the United States, documented under U.S. laws, and owned by U.S. citizens. The Jones Act covers over 42,000 commercial vessels, 124,000 jobs, and $15 billion in economic activity. Many other countries have similar laws restricting foreign access to domestic trade shipped via waterways (Transportation, 2010).

The Maritime Transportation System is also vital to national security. The ability to rapidly deploy troops and materials worldwide is critical to the country’s defense. The Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA) is a standby agreement intended to make commercial, intermodal dry cargo capacity and supporting infrastructure available to meet contingency deployment needs of the Department of Defense. Since World War II, approximately 95% of all military equipment and material sent to combat and crisis areas were ship cargo transported by ocean vessels. For example, during the Persian Gulf War, nearly all domestic supplies intended for U.S. military forces traveled by ship. Marine transportation is an important use of the ocean. Increased demands will be placed on U.S. ports and waterways as domestic and international trade continues to grow. These increases in the use of waterways and port facilities must be attained while still protecting human health and the environment (Transportation, 2010).


Davis, Nikki. (n.d.). Guide to Using Ocean Freight. Retrieved May 3, 2010, from Web site:


Marine cargo handling. (2010). Retrieved May 6, 2010, from Answers Web site:

Rodrigue, Jean-Paul. (n.d.). Transportation and Globalization. Retrieved May 4, 2010, from Web site:

Rodrigue, Jean-Paul, Slack, Brian and Comtois, Claude. (2010). Intermodal Transportation.

Retrieved from the Geography of Transport Systems Web site:

Transportation. (2010). Retrieved May 6, 2010, from Water Encyclopedia Web site:

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