Your comprehensive ocean freight visibility guide 

With the global economy facing potential recession and weakened growth in 2023, as noted by Forbes, it is important for the maritime industry to focus on operational efficiency and minimize avoidable costs. One solution to this challenge is to have complete visibility and control over your ocean freight shipments, allowing you to predict and avoid any potential delays or added costs. When looking for an ocean freight visibility solution, you want one that can serve as a single source of truth for all shipment tracking information. Automated visibility makes you efficient, with predictive ETAs and automated carrier container milestones.

1. What is ocean freight?

A quick overview for people who are not already familiar with the term: most readers of this guide are already familiar with the industry basics and can skip ahead to section 3.

International ocean freight shipping refers to the transportation of goods by ship over the ocean. It is one of the most common methods of transportation for international trade, as it allows for the shipment of large quantities of goods at a relatively low cost. Ocean freight services can include full container load (FCL) or less than container load (LCL) options, as well as specialized services, such as refrigerated or oversized cargo. The freight is typically loaded on the ship at a port of origin (PoL), then transported to a port of destination (PoD), where it is offloaded and sent to its final destination by truck, train, or another mode of transportation.

2. What are the advantages of ocean freight?

  • Cost-effective: ocean freight is typically less expensive than other modes of transportation, such as air freight, for large shipments or bulk cargo.
  • High volume: ocean freight can handle large volumes of goods, making it a desirable option for shipping large quantities of products at once.
  • Reliability: ocean freight services are generally reliable, with a well-established infrastructure, and many ships and ports.
  • Efficiency: it can be more efficient than other modes of transportation, as ocean freight can carry large quantities of goods at once.
  • Environmentally-friendly: shipping by sea generally has a lower carbon footprint than air freight, making it an environmentally-friendly option.
  • Customs clearance: ocean freight includes customs clearance as a standard service.
  • Easy transfer to other forms of transportation: shipping containers can be transferred to other forms of transportation, such as by road or rail, making the transfer easy and smooth. Knowing which sea ports are connected to rail is often an important consideration for containers that need to be imported from overseas and then transported inland. All ports offer truck access, but not all have rail access.

3. What is ocean freight visibility?

The world of ocean freight is dynamic, and it’s difficult to know what could go wrong or how cargo could be delayed. An ocean freight visibility (OFV) solution can help by providing valuable insights and empowering importers, exporters, and freight forwarders to improve the efficiency of their logistics operations. By relying on the most accurate ETA predictions, real-time visibility, plus port and terminal performance and congestion insights, ocean freight companies can maximize their ROI and better serve their customers.

Accurate ETAs that enable tracking of arrivals and departures save costs. This is crucial for refuting incorrect invoices. When an invoice is received for detention and/or demurrage charges, you’ll be informed of how many “free days” you had, how many days the container was there for, and the price of that duration. These times and dates aren’t available for long, and often it’s difficult to refute invoice charges. With an ocean freight visibility solution, you can accurately understand the arrival and departure times, ensuring no extra money is wasted. There are many other ways to save with an automated OFV solution: 

“Many freight forwarders are in cost-cutting mode in preparation for a prolonged recession. Some of the biggest shipment operation expenses are a result of inefficient resource allocation in areas such as tracking estimated time of arrival (ETA) updates and warehouse management, and of fees and penalties that are a result of changes in container arrival dates to their POD, such as detention and demurrage, and haulage rebooking,” according to our previous Windward blog post.

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4. How can ocean freight visibility help supply chain management?

Industry 4.0, also known as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” refers to the integration of advanced technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and automation into manufacturing processes. An ocean freight visibility solution using AI is just this.

This innovative technology can track containers automatically and provide automated carrier container milestones and geofenced ATD and ATA timestamps. When manual processes are automated, resources can be reallocated to other important tasks, such as customer service and support. In today’s economic climate, reducing operational costs is a must. When manual processes are automated, it makes it easier to avoid detention and demurrage fees and minimize invoice volume and processing times. 

When it comes to the ocean leg of the supply chain, it can be tricky to know exactly how the logistics will unfold. Many unknown factors, like port congestion, could delay the process. With an ocean freight visibility solution, these unknown factors become visible. 

Port insights, Savannah (East Coast)

As a Windward blog post mentioned, “It is critical to understand the many factors that affect port congestion. There is no standard regarding the information provided by ports. Different ports provide different information, and some ports do not provide any information at all – especially not in real-time. Congestion can’t be estimated just by the number of vessels anchored or drifting in port waiting areas. Transit time to port is the most reliable measurement of congestion because it accounts for vessels in port waiting areas, as well as the many vessels that slow-steam their way into ports when they are known to be congested, or when the vessel doesn’t expect to get a berthing slot any time soon.”

An instructive example: if one port performs better than another, importers and exporters can ask their suppliers to ship via the better-performing port because of the insights received from an OFV solution.  

Using AI technology, an ocean freight visibility solution can automatically track cargo vessels at sea on their journey from the original POL to the POD. This journey can be complicated when there are many stops along the way and transshipments. 

Transshipments are explained in an earlier Windward blog post: “​​when cargo or a container is transported from one vessel to another while in transit to its final POD. In a classic transshipment scenario, container X will leave the original POL on vessel A, travel to a transshipment port, be discharged from vessel A, and be loaded onto vessel B, which will transport it to the final POD. During more complicated scenarios, there could even be one or two more intermediate ports.”

Maritime AI deep learning ETA model

Ocean freight visibility gives supply chain managers a comprehensive view of their operations, allowing them to identify potential issues and make proactive decisions to minimize disruptions, optimize resources, and ultimately improve the overall performance of their supply chain.

5. Warehouse planning for importers and exporters

Warehouse planning for importers and exporters in the maritime industry involves organizing and optimizing the storage and handling of goods in a warehouse, or other storage facility. This includes determining the most efficient layout for the warehouse, organizing the storage of goods to minimize the risk of damage or loss, and ensuring that goods can be easily accessed and moved when needed. 

It also includes managing inventory levels, scheduling shipments, and coordinating with logistics providers to ensure that goods are delivered on time and in good condition. This is especially important for goods in retail, like seasonal items that need to be delivered at the start of the season and not later. It’s also important that the right amount of people are working during shifts. Extra labor is often needed and if the shipment is delayed, the workers still need to be paid. The goal is to minimize costs, while maximizing efficiency and productivity.

Warehouse planning

6. The role of ocean freight forwarders

An ocean freight forwarder is a third-party logistics provider that arranges the transportation of goods on behalf of a shipper. They act as an intermediary between the shipper and the various transportation providers, such as airlines, shipping lines, trucking companies, and railroads. They handle the logistics of moving goods from one point to another, including coordinating the various modes of transportation, arranging customs clearance, and ensuring compliance with regulations. 

Forwarders also provide additional services, such as warehousing, packaging, and insurance. Freight forwarders help shippers with the logistics and coordination of moving goods, including providing a single point of contact for tracking shipments and providing cost-effective options for transportation. They also assist businesses with navigating through the complexities of international trade, including customs regulations and tariffs. Overall, freight forwarders help businesses simplify the logistics of moving goods, making it easier for them to focus on their core operations.

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Looking to the future of ocean freight

As the global economy is facing a recession, it’s essential to stay ahead of the game by minimizing unnecessary costs. Ocean freight visibility is the key to unlocking the full potential of this critical mode of transportation. With real-time insights and automated carrier container milestones, businesses can operate with precision and predictability. This means no more guessing or scrambling to find answers when delays occur. With a comprehensive ocean freight visibility solution, businesses can better navigate through the stormy waters of a recession and come out ahead of the competition.

Looking for complete visibility & control over your ocean freight shipments?