Port & Shipping Terms

Ballast tanks

Compartments at the bottom of a ship that are filled with liquids for stability and to make the ship seaworthy.



The width of a ship.



A place in which a vessel is moored or secured; place alongside a quay where a ship loads or discharges cargo.


Bill of lading

A document that establishes the terms of contract between a shipper and a transportation company. It serves as a document of title, a contract of carriage, and a receipt for goods.


Bonded warehouse

A warehouse authorised by customs authorities for storage of goods on which payment of duties is deferred until the goods are removed.



Loose, non-containerised cargo stowed directly into a ship’s hold.


Bulk vessel

All vessels designed to carry bulk cargo such as grain, fertilisers, ore, and oil.



Fuel used aboard ships.



Shipments between ports of a single nation, frequently reserved to national flag vessels of that nation.


Cargo tonnage

Ocean freight is frequently billed on the basis of weight or measurement tons. Weight tons can be expressed in terms of short tons of 2,000 pounds, long tons of 2,240 pounds, or metric tons of 1,000 kilograms (2,204.62 pounds). Measurement tons are usually expressed as cargo measurements of 40 cubic feet (1.12 cubic meters) or cubic meters (35.3 cubic feet).



Any person or entity who, in a contract of carriage, undertakes to perform or to procure the performance of carriage by sea, inland waterway, rail, road, air, or by a combination of such modes.


Cleaning in transit

The stopping of articles (such as farm products) for cleaning at a point between the point of origin and destination.



Cargo consisting of shipments of two or more shippers or suppliers. Container load shipments may be consolidated for one or more consignees.


Container vessel

Ship equipped with cells into which containers can be stacked; containerships may be full or partial, depending on whether all or only some of its holds are fitted with container cells.


Container terminal

An area designated for the handling, storage, and possibly loading or unloading of cargo into or out of containers, and where containers can be picked up, dropped off, maintained, stored, or loaded or unloaded from one mode of transport to another (that is, vessel, truck, barge, or rail).


Container yard

A container handling and storage facility either within a port or inland.


Contract carrier

Any person not a common carrier who, under special and individual contracts or agreements, transports passengers or cargo for compensation.


Customs broker

A person or firm, licensed by the customs authority of their country when required, engaged in entering and clearing goods through customs for a client (importer).


Cut-off time (closing time)

The latest time a container may be delivered to a terminal for loading to a scheduled barge, vessel, train, or truck.


Daily running cost

Cost per day of operating a ship.



A penalty charge against shippers or consignees for delaying the carrier’s equipment beyond the allowed free time. The free time and demurrage charges are set forth in the charter party or freight tariff.

Dock or quay

A structure attached to land to which a vessel is moored.


Draft (or draught)

The depth of a ship while in the water. Measured as the vertical distance between the waterline and the lowest edge of the keel.


Dry bulk

Loose, mostly uniform cargo, such as agri bulk products, coal, fertiliser, and ores, that are transported in bulk carriers.



Material used in stowing cargo either for separation or the prevention of damage.


Fixed costs

Costs that do not vary with the level of activity. Some fixed costs continue even if no cargo is carried; for example, terminal leases, rent, and property taxes.


Force majeure

The title of a common clause in contracts, exempting the parties from nonfulfillment of their obligations as a result of conditions beyond their control, such as earthquakes, floods, or war.


Foreign trade zone

A free port in a country divorced from customs authority, but under government control. Merchandise, except contraband, may be stored in the zone without being subject to import duty regulations.


Forty-foot equivalent unit (FEU)

Unit of measurement equivalent to one forty- foot container. Two twenty-foot containers (TEUs) equal one FEU.


Free trade zone

A zone, often within a port (but not always), designated by the government of a country for duty-free entry of any non-prohibited goods. Merchandise may be stored, displayed, or used for manufacturing within the zone and reexported without duties being applied. Also referred to as free port.


Freight, demurrage, and defense

Class of insurance provided by a protection and indemnity (P&I) club that covers legal costs incurred by a shipowner in connection with claims arising from the operation of the ship.


Freight forwarder

Person or company who arranges for the carriage of goods and associated formalities on behalf of a shipper. The duties of a forwarder include booking space on a ship, providing all the necessary documentation, and arranging customs clearance.


Freight payable at destination

Method of paying the freight often used for shipment of bulk cargo, the weight of which is established on discharge from the ship.


Good international practice

Term used in contracts, meaning the exercise of that degree of skill, diligence, and prudence that would, in order to satisfy internationally accepted standards of performance, reasonably be practiced by an experienced person holding all applicable qualifications who is engaged in the same type or similar types of activity under the same or similar circumstances.



The grouping together of several compatible consignments into a full container load. Also referred to as consolidation.


Harbour dues (or port dues)

Charges by a port authority to a vessel for each harbour entry, usually on a per gross tonnage basis, to cover the costs of basic port infrastructure and marine facilities such as buoys, beacons, and vessel traffic management system.



Term used in contracts, meaning the process of providing exclusive, unencumbered, peaceful, and vacant possession of and access to a concession area and the existing operational port infrastructure and also all rights, title (free of all encumbrances and security), and interest in all the movable assets and all the facilities by the government or the port authority on the hand-over date for the conduct of terminal operations.



An officer who is in charge of vessel movements, safety, security, and environmental issues within a port.



A ship’s interior storage compartment.


In bond

Cargo moving under customs control where duty has not yet been paid.



Placing a port on a vessel’s itinerary because the volume of cargo offered by that port justifies the cost of routing the vessel.


Inland carrier

A transportation company that hauls export or import traffic between ports and inland points.



Movement of cargo containers interchangeably between transport modes where the equipment is compatible within the multiple systems.



Measure of ship speed, equal to one nautical mile (1,852 meters) per hour.



Abbreviation for “lighter aboard ship.” A specially constructed vessel equipped with an overhead traveling gantry crane for lifting specially designed barges out of the water and stowing them into the cellular holds of the vessel (loading) and unstowing (unloading) as well.


Loaded draught (or draft)

Depth of water to which a ship is immersed when fully loaded.


Lloyds’ Registry

An organisation engaged in the surveying and classing of ships so that insurance underwriters and others may know the quality and condition of the vessels involved.


Longshoreman (or docker, port worker, or dock worker)

Individual employed locally in a port to load and unload ships.


Mixed cargo

Two or more products carried on board one ship.


Mobile crane

General purpose crane capable of moving on its own wheels from one part of a port to another.



To attach a ship to the shore by ropes.



Person or company who contracts to transport cargo from the port or place of discharge of a sea-going or ocean-going ship to another destination by a different means of transport, such as a feeder vessel, truck, train, or barge.


Optional cargo

Cargo that is destined for one of the ship’s discharge ports, the exact one not being known when the goods are loaded.



The carriage of cargo beyond the port for which it was intended.



A flat tray, generally made of wood, but occasionally steel or other materials, on which goods can be stacked. There are two principal sizes: the ISO pallet, which measures 1 x 1.2 meters, and the europallet at 0.8 x 1.2 meters.


Permanent dunnage

Strips of timber fixed to the frames of a ship to keep cargo away from the sides of the ship to avoid damage and condensation.



The act of assisting the master of a ship in navigation when entering or leaving a port or in confined water.


Pilotage dues

Fee payable by the owner or operator of a ship for the services of a pilot; the fee is normally based on the ship’s tonnage, draft, or length.


Port dues (or harbour dues)

Charges levied against a shipowner or ship operator by a port authority for the use of a port (see also harbour dues).


Port of refuge

Port, not on a ship’s itinerary, which the ship calls at due to some unforeseen hazard at sea and where the ship may undergo repairs, refuel, or rescue cargo.


Port of registry

Place where a ship is registered with the authorities, thereby establishing its nationality.



Presentation to the customs authorities of export or import declarations prior to the clearance of goods.



Refrigerated container or vessel designed to transport refrigerated or frozen cargo.



To transfer containers from one ship to another.



Individual or firm that employs longshoremen (or dockers, dock workers, or port workers) to load and unload vessels.


Stevedoring charges

Fees for loading and stowing or unloading a ship.


Stowage factor

The average cubic space occupied by one ton weight of cargo as stowed aboard a ship.


Stripping (unstuffing)

Unloading of a container.


Tare weight

The weight of wrapping or packing; added to the net weight of cargo to determine its gross weight.


Terminal charge

A charge made for a service performed in a terminal area typically referring to handling associated with receipt, delivery, or inspection of cargo via land-based operations.


Throughput charge

The charge for moving a container through a container yard off of or onto a ship.


Top off

To fill a ship that is already partly loaded with cargo. Typically occurs where there is a draught restriction at the first load port - the ship loads a quantity of cargo corresponding to the permissive draught, then fills up at the second port where there is no restriction.


Top stow cargo

Goods that are stowed on top of all others in a ship’s hold because of their relatively low density and the probability that they would be dam- aged if overstowed.



Charges for the services of tugs assisting a ship or other vessels in ports.



A distribution method whereby containers or cargo are transferred from one vessel to another to reach their final destination, compared to a direct service from the load port of origin to the discharge port of destination. This method is often used to gain better vessel utilisation and thereby economies of scale by consolidating cargo onto larger vessels while transiting in the direction of main trade routes.


Transshipment port

A port where cargo is transferred from one carrier to another or from one vessel of a carrier to another vessel of the same carrier without the cargo leaving the port.


Twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU)

Container size standard of twenty feet. Two twenty-foot containers (TEUs) equal one FEU. Container vessel capacity and port throughput capacity are frequently referred to in TEUs.



To remove the ropes that attach a ship to the shore.


Unstuffing (or stripping)

Unloading of a container.


Vessel manifest

Declarations made by international ocean carriers relating to the ship’s crew and contents at both the port of departure and arrival. All bills of lading are registered on the manifest.