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Moving Goods by Sea

This guide explains how to use ocean shipping to transport your goods. It shows how the international shipping system works and gives you the information you need to choose the shipping option that's right for you.

This guide also outlines the different vessels used for international shipping. It highlights the main factors affecting ocean freight costs and provides an overview of the key documents you'll need to transport goods by sea.

The different types of ocean shipping

Many different types of ship are used to transport goods around the world. The differences between them reflect the varied needs of international traders.

In particular, different types of ship are used to carry different types of cargo, or to carry cargo in varied ways.

The different types of ship are summarised below:

  • Container ships (or "box ships") carry their cargo packed into standard 20'/40' containers that are stacked both on and below deck. Smaller "feeder" ships carry containers on coastal and inland waters.
  • Roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) carriers carry both road haulage and passenger vehicles.
  • General cargo ships carry loose-packaged cargo of all types.
  • Bulk carriers carry unpackaged goods - usually large volumes of single-commodity goods such as grain, coal, fertilizers and ore.
  • Tankers carry liquids (such as oil and gas) in bulk.
Merchant ships primarily do business in two different ways:
  • Liner vessels operate on fixed routes, to fixed schedules and usually with a standard tariff. Liner trades are dominated by container ships, roll-on/roll-off carriers and general cargo ships.
  • Charter ("tramp") vessels operate entirely according to the demands of the person chartering them. Their ports of loading and discharge are set by the charter, as is their cost, which depends on immediate supply and demand conditions. Most tankers and bulk carriers operate in the charter markets.
More Information

Specialist for air and sea freight forwarding services to and from
Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sierra Leone,
Uganda and Zambia