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  • Writer's pictureCSL Tasmania

How Does Containerised Shipping Work?

You must have seen big, sturdy metal boxes in your life strewn across ports or stacked high on colossal ships. But do you know what they carry? From everyday items like clothing and electronics to sometimes hazardous materials, these containers hold many goods crucial to our daily lives. 

Many supply chain logisticians believe that containerised shipping revolutionised global trade by streamlining cargo handling and enabling seamless intermodal transportation. It facilitated globalisation by connecting distant markets, driving economic growth, and reducing shipping costs through economies of scale. This innovation enhanced supply chain efficiency, allowing for door-to-door delivery of goods across various modes of transport. 

In this article, we are going to discuss all the ins and outs of containerised shipping while keeping our main focus on its process. 

Let's get started!

What is Containerised Shipping, and Why is it Preferred?

Container shipping involves transporting goods in standardised containers, which are easily loaded, unloaded and transferred between different modes of transportation. For delicate and important items, the containers secure the items effectively, reducing the chances of any leakage or damage. It is one of the reasons why a considerable percentage of international traders prefer containerised shipping. 

How Does Containerised Shipping Work?

The process of containerised shipping is a bit complex. Starting from cargo preparation to final distribution, it goes through a number of phases, let us discuss them. 

Cargo Preparation

In the first step, goods are carefully packed into standardised containers at the point of origin, ensuring proper handling and secure placement to prevent damage during transit. Here, the containers are documented and labelled with the necessary details, consignor and consignee names.

Transport to Port

Once the cargo is prepared, the teams figure out the easiest and closest route to ship the items. Loaded containers are transported by truck to the nearest port or intermodal terminal, adhering to strict safety protocols and transportation regulations.

Port Operations

At the port or terminal, containers undergo thorough inspection, documentation, and customs clearance procedures to meet regulatory standards. Also, containers containing hazardous materials are subject to additional checks and handling procedures to ensure compliance with safety regulations and prevent potential hazards during transportation and storage.

Container Loading

Containers are strategically organised and staged for loading onto container ships, employing specialised equipment and trained personnel to ensure efficient and safe handling. Here, factors such as container weight, stability, and accessibility for unloading are considered. 

Containers ready to be shipped from a port
Containers loaded with general cargo

Stowage on Ship

Loaded containers are stowed on the ship according to a predefined plan, optimising space utilisation. Once containers are stowed in their designated locations, they are securely lashed and secured to the ship's deck or other containers using twist locks, or other securing mechanisms. This prevents shifting or movement of containers during the voyage.

Sea Transport

Container ships embark on their voyage, navigating various maritime routes and weather conditions to transport containers to the destination port within scheduled timelines. Then, the crew on the ship is trained and equipped to respond to emergencies such as storms, mechanical failures, or medical emergencies. Emergency drills and procedures are conducted regularly to ensure swift and effective responses to any situation that may arise at sea.

Port of Discharge

Upon arrival at the destination port, containers are carefully unloaded from the ship and transferred to the terminal for further processing, including customs clearance. Shipping documents, including bills of lading, lists, and customs paperwork, are processed and verified to ensure accuracy and compliance with regulatory requirements. Any discrepancies or issues are addressed to facilitate smooth cargo clearance. Which is why it is one of the most important phases of the containerised shipping framework. 

Inland Transport

Containers may be transported by truck, train, or both for inland distribution to reach the final destination, ensuring  connectivity within the supply chain network. Throughout the inland transport process, containers are tracked and monitored using advanced tracking systems. This allows for real-time visibility of container movement and enables proactive management of any delays or issues that may arise.

Unloading and Distribution

At the consignee's facility or warehouse, containers are efficiently unloaded. And goods are promptly unpacked for distribution or storage, ensuring timely delivery to end customers. In some cases, goods may be stored temporarily in the facility's warehouse or storage area before further distribution. Proper storage practices are followed to ensure the integrity and safety of the goods.

Stakeholder Coordination

Throughout the entire process, close coordination and communication among shippers, carriers, ports, and customs authorities are essential to facilitate the smooth flow of containerised shipments and minimise disruptions in the supply chain.

Benefits of Containerised Shipping

Containerised shipping is mainly economical and secure. However, it has some other benefits too. Let's take a look at a few of them. 


The containerised shipping relies on standardised container sizes, typically 20 or 40 feet in length, ensuring compatibility across transportation modes. This uniformity simplifies loading, unloading, and storage processes. As containers can be easily handled using standardised equipment and procedures, reducing operational complexity and enhancing efficiency throughout the supply chain.


Using the containerisation process enhances logistics efficiency by streamlining the handling and transportation of goods. Containers are pre-loaded and sealed at the point of origin, minimising the need for individual cargo handling at multiple points along the journey. This reduces transit times, optimises vessel capacity, and improves overall supply chain performance, resulting in faster and more reliable deliveries.


This kind of shipping offers cost-saving benefits by maximising cargo space utilisation and minimising labour requirements. Containers are easily stackable, allowing for efficient use of available vessel capacity and reducing the number of voyages required to transport goods. Additionally, standardised handling procedures and equipment help lower operational costs, contributing to overall cost-effectiveness in shipping operations. 


Containers provide a secure enclosure for goods, protecting them from spoilage, damage, and tampering during transit. Sealed containers deter unauthorised access and ensure the integrity of the cargo throughout the shipping process. This enhances security. Reducing the risk of loss or pilferage, providing peace of mind to shippers and consignees alike.

Intermodal Compatibility

Almost all the containers are designed to transfer between different modes of transportation, including ships, trucks, and trains, facilitating efficient door-to-door delivery. This intermodal compatibility enables smooth cargo movement across various transport networks, minimising handling and transit times while maximising connectivity and accessibility to distant markets.

Global Connectivity

Containerisation plays a pivotal role in connecting distant markets and enabling international trade. By standardising shipping practices and infrastructure worldwide, containerised shipping facilitates exchange of goods between countries and regions. It fosters economic growth and enhancing global connectivity. This interconnectedness supports the expansion of markets and enhances opportunities for businesses to reach new customers across the globe.

Ship from one international seaport arriving at another port
Containers arriving at an international port.


Containers offer flexibility in accommodating various types of cargo, including dry goods, perishables, hazardous materials, and oversised items. Their modular design allows for efficient packing and transportation of diverse goods. Also, it enables shippers to meet diverse customer demands and adapt to changing market conditions. This flexibility enhances the versatility and scalability of containerised shipping solutions, supporting agile supply chain management strategies.

7 Types of Containers Used in Containerised Shipping

Each type of container has specific operational requirements and capabilities tailored to the needs of different sorts of cargo, ensuring efficient and secure transportation throughout the supply chain.

  1. Standard Dry Containers

  2. Reefer Containers

  3. Open-Top Containers

  4. Flat-Rack Containers

  5. Tank Containers

  6. Insulated Containers

  7. Ventilated Containers

Standard Dry Containers

These are the most common types of containers used for general cargo. They are typically made of steel and come in various sizes, with standard dimensions of 20 or 40 feet in length. Standard dry containers are versatile and can accommodate a number of goods, from consumer products to industrial materials.

Reefer Containers

Reefer containers are equipped with refrigeration units to transport temperature-sensitive goods such as fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and pharmaceuticals. These containers maintain a controlled temperature throughout the shipment, ensuring the quality and freshness of perishable goods.

Open-Top Containers

Open-top containers have removable roofs, allowing for easy loading and unloading of bulky cargo. These are commonly used for transporting machinery, vehicles, and other goods that cannot fit into standard dry containers.

Flat-Rack Containers

Flat-rack containers have collapsible sides and ends, making them ideal for transporting oversised or irregularly shaped cargo, such as machinery, vehicles, and large industrial equipment. They are often used for project cargo and heavy-lift shipments.

Tank Containers

These are designed to transport liquids and gases, such as chemicals, fuels, and food-grade products. They feature cylindrical tanks made of stainless steel, housed within a standard container frame, and are equipped with valves and fittings for safe loading and unloading operations.

Tank container
Tank container

Insulated Containers

Insulated containers are designed to regulate temperature and protect goods from extreme heat or cold during transit. They feature insulation materials to maintain stable temperature conditions, making them suitable for transporting temperature-sensitive products like pharmaceuticals, chocolate, and wine over long distances.

Ventilated Containers

Ventilated containers have openings or vents to allow air circulation, helping to control temperature and humidity levels inside the container. They are used for transporting goods that require adequate ventilation, such as coffee beans, spices, and textiles, to prevent moisture buildup and mould growth.

Challenges Involved in Containerised Shipping

Like many other industries, the shipping industry has some challenges to solve. Here are a few of these challenges. 

Port Congestion

It is a significant challenge in containerised shipping, often caused by a mismatch between supply and demand for port infrastructure. Overcrowding at ports results in delays in vessel berthing, container handling, and cargo movement, leading to increased costs, supply chain disruptions, and inefficiencies in trade operations.

Container Shortages 

This is a common issue in containerised shipping, particularly during periods of high demand or imbalances in global trade flows. Insufficient container availability disrupts supply chain operations, limiting cargo transport capacity, increasing shipping costs, and hindering trade flows between regions.


Regulatory compliance poses challenges for network coordination in containerised shipping, as international trade regulations and customs procedures vary across jurisdictions. Ensuring compliance with documentation requirements, import/export regulations, and trade sanctions requires effective coordination among supply chain partners to avoid delays, penalties.


Networking challenges in containerised shipping arise when logistics companies lack robust networks, hindering effective collaboration and coordination among supply chain partners. However, companies that offer comprehensive in-house services can leverage their network of carriers, freight forwarders, and other stakeholders to streamline communication, optimise logistics operations, and mitigate network-related challenges in containerised shipping. 

One fine example of 4PL companies providing in-house services is Complete Storage and Logistics. Leveraging their network of different logistics-related resources across Victoria and Tasmania, they help businesses to swiftly deliver their shipments.  

Infrastructure Constraints

Constraints, such as inadequate port infrastructure, road and rail connections, and inland distribution networks, limit the capacity and capabilities of container shipping hubs. Insufficient infrastructure hinders the efficient movement of cargo, leads to congestion, delays, and increased costs, and impedes the growth and competitiveness of containerised shipping operations.

Addressing infrastructure constraints requires investment in port expansion, transportation infrastructure upgrades, and intermodal connectivity to enhance the reliability, and capacity of container shipping networks.

The Future of Containerised Shipping

The supply chain experts are mainly focused on two things in the future. One is to improve efficiency, and the second is to reduce its carbon footprint. These could include developing more energy-efficient vessels and smart containers and using greener solutions for supply chain management. Let's discuss this in detail. 

Smart Containers 

Smart containers are essentially traditional shipping containers equipped with advanced technology to monitor cargo during transportation. They utilise sensors and IoT devices to collect real-time data on factors like location, temperature, humidity, and physical shocks. This information is transmitted wirelessly to a central system for analysis. 

The benefits of smart containers are significant. They provide enhanced visibility and transparency throughout the supply chain, enabling better inventory management and reducing loss due to spoilage or damage. 

Additionally, smart containers facilitate proactive risk management and preventive maintenance, minimising disruptions and improving operational efficiency. Overall, smart containers leverage technology to revolutionise cargo transport, offering improved monitoring, risk management, and operational efficiency in the logistics industry.

Advanced Biofuels

Advanced biofuels offer a sustainable alternative to conventional fossil fuels, as they can be made from renewable sources such as algae, agricultural waste, or non-food biomass. Unlike fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide when burned, advanced biofuels are considered carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative if produced using carbon capture and utilisation technology. 

By replacing fossil fuels with biofuels in transportation and shipping, carbon emissions can be significantly reduced, contributing to efforts to mitigate the impact on climate and improve air quality. Additionally, the production of advanced biofuels can provide economic opportunities in rural areas, promote energy independence, and reduce dependence on fossil fuel resources.

Looking for a Reliable Partner to Ship Your Products?

Containerised shipping has transformed global trade by making it easier to transport goods worldwide. It has helped businesses grow, connected distant markets, and made shipping more efficient. Containerised shipping is preferred by many because it's simple, cost-effective, and secure.

It has various benefits, like reducing environmental impact, offering flexibility, and connecting countries economically. Overall, containerised shipping plays a crucial role in modern commerce, making it easier for goods to move around the world.

Luckily, a 4PL (fourth-party logistics) company can help you with this. A 4PL company provides end-to-end management and route planning services to ensure your business delivers its products on time. So while making a decision for containerised shipping or improving your overall supply chain management, always consider reliable partners.                                                                       


Don't let supply chain inefficiencies hold your business back. 

Partner with Complete Storage and Logistics for seamless Tasmanian supply chain management and get a competitive edge in the market.

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