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Container Terminal

Container Terminal

What is a Container Terminal?

A container terminal is a facility that stores and processes shipping containers as they move from one shipping vehicle to the next. Located at ports, these terminals handle the loading and unloading of containers from ships, their storage, and their transfer to trucks or trains for inland distribution. 

Container terminals facilitate the efficient and organized movement of goods across international borders. They are a key cog in the supply chain, ensuring timely delivery and distribution of products worldwide.

How Many Container Terminals are There and How Many Containers Do They Process?

There are thousands of container terminals worldwide, with major ports often hosting multiple facilities. These terminals are integral to global trade, handling billions of twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) annually. 

The total global container throughput was approximately 862 million TEUs in 2022. Some of the busiest ports process tens of millions of TEUs each year. The Port of Shanghai was the busiest container port in the world, handling 47.3 million TEUs in 2022. The Port of Singapore managed 39 million TEUs during that same time period and the Port of Ningbo-Zhoushan processed 35 million TEUs in 2023. 

These figures highlight container terminals’ immense scale and critical role in facilitating international trade and logistics.

Container Terminal

What Fees Are Associated with Container Terminals?

There are a number of fees that can be assessed when containers are loaded or unloaded off the ship. 

Fee TypeDescriptionPayment Information
WharfageAlso known as goods dues, these are fees levied on all goods that get loaded or unloaded from a vessel. Rates are typically based on weight, volume, or number of goodsCargo owner responsible
Terminal handling charge (THC)Fee collected for loading, unloading, storage, movement, and maintenance of containers, including transshipmentResponsible party is Determined by Incoterm agreement
Port storage chargeFee charged when containers are held or stored beyond the 3-7 day free periodFee paid to port
Early arrival chargesPenalty for arriving earlyResponsible party is determined by Incoterm agreement
Late arrival chargePenalty for arriving lateResponsible party is determined by Incoterm agreement
Lift on/lift off chargeCost per container that is removed or added to a shipResponsible party is determined by Incoterm agreement
Cancellation feePenalty for canceling arrival of containersResponsible party is determined by Incoterm agreement
Container clearance chargesFee for customs clearance and inspection. They include documentation charges, inspection fees, and port feesThe importer is almost always responsible
Plugging chargesFees for shipping containers that require electricity, such as refrigerated containersResponsible party is determined by Incoterm agreement
Demurrage chargesFees for containers that are delayed. This is similar to port storage charges, and shippers frequently have to pay both Fee paid to shipping line

What Type of Equipment is Used at Container Terminals?

Container terminals use specialized equipment to load, unload, and store containers. Key types of equipment include:

  • Ship-to-shore (STS) cranes: used to lift containers on and off ships
  • Rubber-tired gantry (RTG) cranes: mobile cranes used to stack containers in the yard
  • Rail-mounted gantry (RMG) cranes: fixed cranes used to stack and move containers in the yard
  • Straddle carriers: vehicles that lift and transport containers within the terminal
  • Reach stackers: vehicles used to handle and stack containers
  • Terminal tractors: trucks designed to move containers between different parts of the terminal
  • Automated guided vehicles (AGVs): self-driving vehicles for transporting containers within the terminal
  • Forklifts: handle smaller containers and other cargo
  • Container-handling equipment: includes spreaders and twist-locks for securing containers during lifting

Key Terms Connected Container Terminals

Here are some important terms to know when discussing container terminals:

  • Quay (berth): part of the terminal where ships dock to load and unload containers
  • Yard: area within the terminal where containers are stored temporarily before being loaded onto trucks or trains
  • Intermodal transport: movement of containers between different modes of transport, such as ship-to-truck, ship-to-rail, and vice versa
  • Throughput: total volume of containers handled by a terminal within a specific period, usually measured in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs)
  • Dwell time: amount of time a container spends within the terminal, including storage and processing time
  • Turnaround time: time it takes for a ship to unload containers, reload cargo, and depart from the terminal
  • Security zones: designated areas within the terminal where security measures are enforced to protect cargo and personnel

Understanding these key terms will provide a foundational knowledge of container terminal operations and facilitate effective communication within the maritime and logistics industries.