Glossary of Port and Shipping Terms


Backhaul - To haul a shipment back over part of a route that it has already traveled; return movement of cargo, usually opposite from the direction of its primary cargo destination.

Ballast keel - A heavy keel fitted to vessels to lower the center of gravity and improve stability.

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

Beam  - The width of a ship.

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

Berth term - Shipped under a rate that does not include the cost of loading or unloading.

Berth dues (or quay dues or dockage) - Charges for the use of a berth. Typically assessed based on the duration of a vessel’s stay and length overall (LOA).

Bill of lading - A document that establishes the terms of con- tract between a shipper and a transportation company. It serves as a document of title, a con- tract of carriage, and a receipt for goods.

Bond port - Port of a vessel’s initial customs entry to any country; also known as first port of call.

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

Breakbulk - Loose, noncontainerized cargo stowed directly into a ship’s hold.

Broker - A person who arranges for transportation of loads for a percentage of the revenue from the load.

Build-operate-transfer (BOT) - A form of concession where a private party or consortium agrees to finance, construct, operate and maintain a facility for a specific period and transfer the facility to the concerned govern- ment or port authority after the term of the concession. The ownership of the concession area (port land) remains with the government or port authority during the entire concession period. The concessionaire bears the commer- cial risk of operating the facility.

Build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) - A form of concession where a private party or consortium agrees to finance, construct, own, operate and maintain a facility for a specific period and transfer the facility to the concerned government or port authority after the term of the concession. The ownership of the conces- sion area (port land) vests in the private party or consortium during the entire concession period and is transferred to the government or port authority at the end of the concession period. As with the BOT, the concessionaire bears the commercial risk of operating the facility.

Bulkhead - A structure to resist water; a partition separating one part of a ship from another part.

Bulk vessel - All vessels designed to carry bulk cargo such as grain, fertilizers, ore, and oil.

Bunkers - Fuel used aboard ships.

Cabotage - Shipments between ports of a single nation, fre- quently 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).

Carrier - 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.

Cartage - Intraport or local hauling of cargo by drays or trucks (also referred to as drayage).

Chassis - A frame with wheels and container locking devices to secure the container for movement.

Classification yard (also commonly known as a shunting yard) - A railroad yard with many tracks used for assembling freight trains.

Cleaning in transit - The stopping of articles (such as farm products) for cleaning at a point between the point of ori- gin and destination.

Clearance - The size beyond which vessels, cars, or loads cannot pass through, under, or over bridges, tunnels, highways, and so forth.

Cleat - A device secured on the floor of a container to provide additional support or strength to a cargo-restraining device, or a device attached to a wharf to secure mooring lines.

Common carrier - A transportation company that provides service to the general public at published rates.

Concession - An arrangement whereby a private party (concessionaire) leases assets from a authorized public entity for an extended period and has responsibility for financing specified new fixed investments during the period and for providing specified services associated with the assets; in return, the concessionaire receives specified rev- enues from the operation of the assets; the assets revert to the public sector at expiration of the contract.

Conservancy - In some countries, this fee is levied to retain upkeep of the approaches to waterways and canals.

Consolidation - Cargo consisting of shipments of two or more shippers or suppliers. Container load shipments may be consolidated for one or more con- signees.

Container - Steel or aluminum frame forming a box in which cargo can be stowed meeting International Standard Organization (ISO)-specified measure- ments, fitted with special castings on the corners for securing to lifting equipment, vessels, chassis, rail cars, or stacking on other containers. Containers come in many forms and types, including: ventilated, insulated, refrigerated, flat rack, vehicle rack, open top, bulk liquid, dry bulk, or other special configurations. Typical con- tainers may be 10 feet, 20 feet, 30 feet, 40 feet, 45 feet, 48 feet, or 53 feet in length, 8 feet or 8.5 feet in width, and 8.5 feet or 9.5 feet in height.

Container freight station - A dedicated port or container terminal area, usually consisting of one or more sheds or warehouses and uncovered storage areas where cargo is loaded (“stuffed”) into or unloaded (“stripped”) from containers and may be tem- porarily stored in the sheds or warehouses.

Container pool - An agreement between parties that allows the efficient use and supply of containers; a com- mon supply of containers available to the ship- per as required.

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 trans- port to another (that is, vessel, truck, barge, or rail).

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

Contraband - Cargo that is prohibited.

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

Controlled atmosphere - Sophisticated, computer controlled systems that manage the mixture of gases within a container throughout an intermodal journey, thereby reducing decay.

Customhouse - A government office where duties are paid, doc- uments filed, and so forth, on foreign ship- ments.

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.

Deconsolidation point - Place where cargo is ungrouped for delivery.

Demurrage - 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.

Dredging - Removal of sediment to deepen access channels, provide turning basins for ships, and maintain adequate water depth along waterside facilities.

Dry bulk - Loose, mostly uniform cargo, such as agribulk products, coal, fertilizer, and ores, that are transported in bulk carriers.

Dunnage - Material used in stowing cargo either for sepa- ration or the prevention of damage.

Electronic data interchange (EDI) - Transmission of transactional data between computer systems.

EDIFACT - Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce, and Trade. International data inter- change standards sponsored by the United Nations.

Eminent domain - The sovereign power to take property for a nec- essary public use, with reasonable compensa- tion.

Feeder service - Transport service whereby loaded or empty containers in a regional area are transferred to a “mother ship” for a long-haul ocean voyage.

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 nonprohibited goods. Merchandise may be stored, displayed, or usedfor manufacturing within the zone and reex- ported 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.

Gantry crane - A crane fixed on a frame or structure spanning an intervening space typically designed to tra- verse fixed structures such as cargo (container) storage areas or quays and which is used to hoist containers or other cargo in and out of vessels and place or lift from a vessel, barge, trucks, chassis, or train.

Gateway - A point at which freight moving from one terri- tory to another is interchanged between trans- portation lines.

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 accept- ed 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.

Grounding - Contact by a ship with the ground while the ship is moored or anchored as a result of the water level dropping, or when approaching the coast as a result of a navigational error.

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

Harbor dues (or port dues) - Charges by a port authority to a vessel for each harbor entry, usually on a per gross ton- nage basis, to cover the costs of basic port infrastructure and marine facilities such as buoys, beacons, and vessel traffic management system.

Hand-over - Term used in contracts, meaning the process of providing exclusive, unencumbered, peaceful, and vacant possession of and access to a con- cession 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.

Harbormaster - An officer who is in charge of vessel move- ments, safety, security, and environmental issues within a port.

Heavy lift charge - A charge typically imposed when special lifting gear is required to handle a given piece of cargo, which may be of either heavy weight or of large dimensions (often referred to as “out of gauge” when dealing with container vessels).

Hold - A ship’s interior storage compartment.

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

Inducement - 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.

Intermodal - Movement of cargo containers interchange- ably between transport modes where the equipment is compatible within the multiple systems.

Jetty (or pier) - A structure that is perpendicular or at an angle to the shoreline to which a vessel is secured for the purpose of loading and unloading cargo.

Jumboising - Conversion of a ship to increase cargo-carrying capacity by dividing and adding a new section.

Keel - A flat steel plate running along the center line of a vessel.

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

Sources: Brodie, Peter. Dictionary of Shipping Terms, Third Edition, 1997, and Sullivan, Eric, The Main Encyclopedic Dictionary, Fifth Edition, 1996.