Shortsea shipping

Shortsea shipping is the transport of goods using the coastal waters around Europe, the Mediterranean (North-Africa included) and the Black sea.

Oceans will never be crossed with this type of transport. In certain countries or regions, coasters navigate inland canals and rivers to then load and unload close to the customer. This is also referred to as sea-river transport.

Ship-owner: the owner of the ship

Shipping line / shipping service: manages a regular maritime connection, mostly between two or more ports.

Shipping agent: searches and books loads for the shipping service. This person is largely responsible for all kinds of administrative tasks such as stowing, the stay in the port, provisioning, fuel and repairs.

Shipper: charters or rents a ship on an ad hoc basis, when there is load to be shipped between ports and no regular line service available.

Forwarder: organizes door-to-door transport by using the maritime services and completes the chain by using pre and post transport services via road, rail or inland shipping.

Logistics service provider: Completes the tasks of the forwarder with other services such as storage.

Goods handler / stevedore: this party loads and unloads ships for the shipping company and organizes supply and disposal on the quay/terminal. The ships are brought from the sea to the ports by pilots. In certain circumstances, for smaller ships, the captain can bring in the ship independently.

Vast area

The area in which shortsea ships operate is vast. Certain weather conditions, such as the winter period in the Baltic region, require ice class ships to call upon certain ports.

Type of ships

In the shortsea shipping world they say; “There is a type of ship for every type of load”. The classifications are set out below:

Car ships: Used for the transport of (new) cars

Bulk carriers: Can be compared to big floating ‘bath tubs’ with a few vertical bulkheads and no intermediate decks.

Tankers: Used for the transportation of liquid substances.

Container ships: Solely used for containers, generally they have different lengths, although there are also specific ships that only load 45’ containers.

Gas tankers: Used for the transportation of gas.

Roro ships (roll on/roll off): For rolling material. Often, the containers are transported (two above each other) on a “mafi” (rolling platform).

Multi-purpose ships: Designed for the transportation of different types of loads.

Coasters: linked to shortsea and intra-European transport, different types are available.

Sea-river ships: Can be used for sea and canal transport, mostly equipped with a hydraulic lowering wheelhouse (crawl line coasters)

Types of container (ISO)

The intermodal loading unit

45’ pallet wide container offering options for transporting more pallets. These can be switched easily from one transport mode to another.

There are also special types of 45’ containers:

  • Curtain-side containers
  • Containers with doors on both sides
  • Reefer container with compartments.


Since 2016 there have been 45’ containers that can transport 34 pallets.

Terminals are locations in ports where goods are handled and transhipped from quay to ship, rail, coaster, truck, etc. These terminals often specialize in certain types of goods and are equipped accordingly.

Container terminal

Multipurpose terminal

Car terminal

Roro (roll on/roll off) terminal

Liquid bulk terminal

Dry bulk terminal

Sometimes terminals are built for very specific purposes: for example, underneath the roof of the all-weather terminal coasters can be loaded and unloaded without the impact of exterior circumstances.

The sea-river ships that navigate on canals can also use inland terminals and other quays alongside the channel (private or public). This offers the advantage of loading and unloading inland and close to the customer.

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