If you’ve ever watched the constant movement of cranes and trucks at a seaport, you’ve witnessed the fast-paced rhythm of a container terminal.

But what exactly is it, and why does it play such a crucial role in our everyday lives?
In the following lines, we’ll provide answers to these questions and more about container terminals.

What is a container terminal?

A container terminal is the epicenter of global supply chain logistics, a vital link between manufacturers, carriers, and consumers.

Its main purpose is to ensure the smooth and efficient transition of goods from their origin to their destination.

Within these massive spaces, containers are received, registered, stored, and eventually loaded onto cargo ships, trains, or trucks for local or international shipment. Consequently, the efficiency and capacity of these terminals can have a direct and significant impact on the global economy.

How does a container terminal work?

At first glance, a container terminal may appear as a chaotic scene with containers, cranes, and trucks. However, behind the scenes, everything is synchronized and works like a clockwork.

It all starts with a container’s arrival at the terminal. It is registered in the terminal’s inventory system, and its location in the storage yard is determined based on its destination and departure schedule.

Specialized equipment such as cranes and trailers are used to move the containers from the storage yard to the corresponding cargo ship, train, or truck.

This entire process is coordinated and monitored by Terminal Management Systems (TMS), which track each container’s real-time location and schedule their movements to maximize efficiency.

At the same time, the terminal must also coordinate the arrival and departure of cargo ships.

This is a complex process that involves scheduling the docking of the ships, planning the loading and unloading of containers, and coordinating with land and rail transporters for the movement of containers to and from the terminal.

What is the capacity of a container terminal?

The container terminal capacity refers to the number of containers it can handle within a specific timeframe, usually a year.

Determining the precise capacity of a container terminal goes beyond simply counting how many containers can physically fit in the terminal. It involves a more complex and multifaceted container terminal capacity calculation.

Firstly, physical infrastructure plays a role, including the terminal’s size, number of berths, length of quay lines, and available storage space for containers.

Secondly, the machinery and equipment utilized are crucial factors. The number, type, and efficiency of gantry cranes, container transport vehicles, and other equipment significantly influence the terminal’s container handling capacity.

Lastly, operational and organizational aspects are equally important. Factors such as the number of shifts and hours worked per day, as well as the management and coordination of terminal operations, directly impact the terminal’s capacity.

Types of container terminals that exist

Just as there are different types of containers for various goods, there are also several types of container terminals.

While all aim to facilitate the transfer of goods between maritime and land transport, each type has its own specialties and characteristics.

General-purpose container terminals

These are the most common types of container terminals, capable of handling a wide range of containers and goods. They are versatile and can be found in almost all major ports.

Specialized container terminals

Designed to handle specific types of containers or goods, these terminals include specialized facilities such as refrigerated container terminals equipped with electrical connections to maintain temperature-controlled containers.

Transshipment terminals

These terminals are designed for the rapid transfer of containers between vessels. Containers can be unloaded from one ship, briefly stored, and then loaded onto another ship without undergoing customs procedures.

Intermodal terminals

The primary purpose of intermodal terminals is to facilitate container transfers between different modes of transportation, including ships, trucks, and trains.
👉 You might be interested in:  All you need to know about Intermodal Containers

List of most important container terminals operators

The world of maritime transportation relies heavily on container terminal operators.
These companies manage and operate terminals, ensuring the continuous flow of goods across borders.
Here are some of the major gateway container terminal operators worldwide:

  • DP World: With headquarters in Dubai, this company operates over 60 terminals across six continents.
  • Hutchison Port Holdings: This Hong Kong-based giant is responsible for approximately 10% of the world’s container traffic.
  • APM Terminals: A part of the Maersk Group, APM operates in 57 terminals across 36 countries.
  • PSA International: This Singapore-based operator handles around 9% of the total global container traffic.
  • COSCO: A state-owned Chinese company that operates 46 maritime terminals worldwide.

What are the current challenges faced by container terminals?

As the world changes and the needs of global trade participants evolve, container terminals face a range of challenges, including:

Increasing cargo volume

Global trade continues to grow, resulting in the movement of more containers than ever before. Terminals must find ways to increase their capacity without compromising efficiency or safety.

Pressure to reduce emissions

Container terminals are significant contributors to carbon dioxide emissions. There is increasing pressure to find ways to reduce these emissions and make operations more environmentally friendly.


The maritime transportation industry has traditionally been slow in adopting digital technology, but this is changing. The digitalization of the maritime industry can enhance efficiency and transparency, but it also poses challenges in terms of cybersecurity and data protection.Impact of COVID-19
The pandemic has presented unique challenges, including supply chain disruptions and the need to implement health and safety measures. Container terminals must adapt and find ways to maintain operations despite these difficulties.


Despite the challenges they face, the ability of container terminals to adapt and evolve remains crucial for the movement of goods and the global economy.
At BOXXPORT, we are committed to staying up-to-date with the latest industry trends and changes, and providing our customers with the information and resources they need to navigate the exciting world of container shipping.