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How Do Container Terminals Work? – We Have the Answers

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Just how do container terminals work? Is there a difference between a port and a terminal? We have a full guide that answers all your important questions and more. Ports and terminals are an important part of the supply chain. The importance of these two sectors has grown significantly in the last few years, along with private ownership, which is also growing. Ports and terminals help with not only the growth and development of the country but also the economic side too.

Let’s look at why they are so important.

Container Terminals: What Are They?

A container terminal is where the transfer of cargo and shipping containers to other methods of transport is carried out. Think of it as a checkpoint where ships are loaded, unloaded, and inspected when needed.                 
People can get confused and think container ports and container terminals are the same thing. They are different, and we will talk about their differences below.

Container Port and Container Terminal: What Are the Differences?

A Terminal

A terminal is an area located inside a port. Here, you will find container terminals that are designated for certain products. Some products require separate terminals, for instance, oil and gas. The containers can be stored, repaired, maintained, and disassembled at the terminals.

A Port

In a container port, cargo is loaded and unloaded for commercial and industrial purposes. Harbors typically have ports, and these ports serve a variety of commercial purposes. Ports are not only used for unloading but also for unloading of passengers and for maintenance of the ship as well.

Why is Operations Planning Important at a Container Terminal?

Operations planning is a plan that shows what the terminal will be used for and how the containers will be moved and stored. The job of the operations planner is to design the layout, what equipment is needed and whether there is going to be a steady flow of traffic without hold ups. Once the plan has been drafted it will be shared with the staff and investors in hopes that everyone approves. In order for the terminal to run smoothly without delays there has to be a perfect operations plan drafted. 

The operations planners are responsible for what goes on in the terminal and the best way to achieve effectiveness. It’s important for the overall supply chain to have a container terminal that can work well. The movements of the other methods of transport need to be considered and what is coming and going. The operations planner needs to make sure that the terminal is able to meet the needs of buyers and sellers. It can be hard to balance everything, so it all flows together but is essential for the supply chain. You need a reliable container terminal to gain a successful port. If a terminal has complicated parts, they can influence how the average day to day operations function. It’s all about taking everything into consideration and turning it into assets by having an efficient plan that everything works together and is managed well.

How Do They Help Container Terminals?

Operations planning is beneficial for container terminals in the following ways:

Proper planning allows for allocation of resources properly. Container terminals can allocate storage, trucks and cranes effectively.
Reduced waiting times are important for all transport methods as it offers quicker turnaround times.
A properly thought-out plan offers more productivity 
Better customer service due to enhanced operations planning which allows for quicker handling of the shipments so you get a reduction in delays and better customer reviews.

Shipping Terminals and Their Role

A terminal connects maritime transportation with other transportation modes.
Terminals are like gateways between countries. They facilitate cargo shipment by end-consumers and play a significant role in distribution. At this point, goods are transported via rail, road, and canal to their final stops.

How can we distinguish between the various types of container terminals? A marine terminal is a terminal located at a seaport. A terminal that transloads on the rails and the road, also called an inland container port. These facilities are usually located close to or within major cities, and the rail network connects them to ports.

Those outside of cities are called hinterland terminals. The supply chain relies on them as well because they are connected to ports. Several countries in Europe are landlocked, making it impossible for them to trade goods with countries that are not neighbours.

As many European countries lack seaports, land connections to seaports abroad are essential for their economic welfare. Worldwide, the same applies to inland nodes.

What is the Operation of a Container Terminal?

When a ship docks at a port, the terminal has manned cranes that lift containers off. Containers are then moved from the quay cranes to vehicles. Vehicles like this travel between container stacks and ships, delivering containers for temporary storage. In the next phase, cranes lift the containers, and AGVs take them to their final destination. Barges, deep-sea ships, trucks, or trains can be used.

Export containers are loaded onto a ship, then the process is reversed. At most terminals, manned equipment is still used, including straddle carriers, multi-trailers, and cranes. Despite this, some exciting developments have occurred in port and terminal automation lately.

Automated Port Operations

An automated system uses procedures, tools, and equipment for managing container movement. Robots and self-driving vehicles are methods of automating port vehicles and cranes that stack stuff automatically. 
The number of automated ports worldwide is currently around 4% about 53 terminals. Automated port operations, on the other hand, are steadily on the rise, mainly because, without a doubt, they will simplify and increase efficiency. 

Here Are the Top 5 Container Terminals in the World

Are you curious about the world’s top terminal operators? See who they are by reading the below list:

2021: 91.5 million TEUs for PSA International

Global terminal operator PSA International was founded in 1996. There’s no one busier than this operator, operating in more than 50 locations across 26 countries. The company has more than 40,000 employees and owns 60 terminals. Aside from marine services, they also manage warehouses around the world.

122 million TEUs in 2022 for Cosco Shipping Ports

This is the world’s second busiest operator in terms of terminal operations. Incorporated in Hong Kong by the Chinese shipping giant COSCO. There are COSCO SHIPPING Ports in South East Asia, the major port regions in China, Europe, Mediterranean region, and South America.

APM Terminals: 44 million TEUs in 2021

As a port and terminal operator based in The Hague, Netherlands, APM Terminals ranks third in the world. APM currently operates 67 terminals around the world. A staggering 12.8 million container moves were performed by this operator in 2021.

In 2020, China Merchants Group Completed 44 million TEUs

A state-owned corporation, China Merchants Group (CMG) was founded in 1872 by the China People’s Republic. Investor, builder, and provider of ports with a strong reputation with branches in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen. Also found in Oceania to.
 North America, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America. 

In 2020, DP World Predicts 44.3 million TEUs

In terms of ports and terminals, it is the fifth busiest operator, serving more than 180 countries employing more than 50,000 people. As a Dubai-based company, DP World provides logistics services, operations at ports, marine services, and special economic zones. 

Types of Container Terminals on the Basis of Ownership

Now let’s talk about terminal ownership. The following five types of container terminals are currently in use around the world:

Terminals Leased by Carriers

Several major carriers and port authorities collaborated to develop these terminals, which were leased to these carriers for long periods.

All costs associated with using these terminals are the responsibility of the carriers. Several terminals are in long-term contracts with Maersk, for instance. Alternatively, some shipping companies have developed business partnerships with multiple users. There are dedicated terminals, and all the partners share all costs.

Terminals Under State Control

When a state-run terminal is in operation, all services, like unloading and loading, fees, and checkpoint locations, are offered to shipping lines equally. There is a first come, first served policy. The handling of containers is subject to regular tariffs or discounted to an agreed price.

Operation Terminals

A terminal operator is a company that invests directly in the establishment, operation, and management of terminals. The port authorities require a deposit when leasing containers, which goes towards the container operations’ overall fee.

The Terminals of the Carriers

This is an agreement in which a carrier or a group of carriers leases a container terminal in advance from a governing body. Investing is also available directly for operation, construction, and handling, just like the terminal built. 

Carrier-Terminal Joint Ventures

Terminal operators and shipping lines form a company to run the terminals together. The container handling operations have become more reliable, effective, and prioritized.

What Do I Need to Know About Terminal Handling Charges?

A terminal handling charge (THC) is a fee charged to move and store containers prior to loading. A maintenance charge, equipment handling charge, and container discharge charge are all included in these charges. 

There may be differences in these fees depending on where the terminal is located. Therefore, terminal handling charges may vary considerably depending on the port at which your goods arrive. To find out what sort of THC you’re dealing with, you should do some research before shipping goods.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to avoid terminal handling charges, so shipments almost anywhere must factor them in. Other port charges can, however, be reduced. Next, let’s explore this topic in more detail. 

How to Save on Port Charges

You also have to consider various other fees and charges when shipping goods. The charges of demurrage and detention should also be considered. What are these charges?
You are given a certain number of free days if you use carrier-owned containers. You will not be charged additional fees if you return the containers within the free period. When the containers are not returned within the free days, shipping companies will charge demurrage fees and detention fees. A lot of these can accumulate over time.

This unpleasant extra charge can be avoided, however. Here’s how you can do it. Containers that are owned by the shipper rather than the carrier are the key. 
When you use shipper-owned containers, your boxes are in your hands. Find what will suit your needs and decide when you want them. It is also possible to ship goods worldwide, free of carrier fees.

Where to Find Shipper Owned Containers

We are the answer to the confusion that can occur when searching for shipper-owned containers. We have the knowledge and the resources to link you with the perfect container for your needs and wants. There are many available to lease or buy in many different locations. The process is easy for getting a shipper-owned container. Just contact us with what you need, and we will ask a few questions to understand your situation better to match you with the perfect option.

Challenges Facing Container Terminals

Container terminals and ports are facing many problems and issues around the sector. The ports are under pressure with the huge number of raw materials and other cargo that are being moved via ocean liners, so everything is under strain to keep up with the growing demand. When the demands grow, and the cargo volume increases, bigger ships are needed to handle the pace. The supply chain in the industry only survived the pandemic and its drastic effects on the economy and businesses. When one part is affected, the whole chain, and everything else follows. The demands were rising from the pandemic in China. There was a huge want that was coming from the Western economies, but it was still only a one-way process. The shipping costs were huge, and there was a container shortage and the need for extra space. Not to mention the huge backlogs that were growing by the day.  

What Capacity Can a Terminal Handle?

In this case, the capacity means the amount of containers that can be handled through the terminal in a certain timeframe. You cannot just count the amount that will fit in the terminal; it is more complex than that. Proper calculations need to be carried out, such as the physical structure of the terminal. This includes the overall size, available space that can be used for storage, amount of berths, and the quay line lengths. The equipment also needs to be considered; this includes the type, amount, container transport vehicles, and other machinery that can affect the terminal handling capacity. Organization and operation parts are something to consider to. This includes hours worked each week and the coordination of the terminal operations.


Container terminals are an important part of the overall chain supply. Without them running smoothly and to capacity, the chain would crumble. The goods and products that are shipped out keep the world running smoothly, and container terminals are a huge part of that.