Maritime container and its uses

The use of maritime container

The use of maritime container first began into deep sea services in the mid 1960s. The US Company Sea-Land service utilized the services of containerships on to the North Atlantic trade in 1966. By the   end of the decade, purpose- built container vessel was operated on most of the world’s prime trade routes. Gradually, the use of container was largely developed for major trades between the developed countries.   The use of Break bulk vessels was reduced.

Trading of business to/from developing countries began to containerize in the 1970s, firstly by carrying some containers on conventional vessels.  After that, use of multipurpose roll -on , and roll-off/ container vessels was introduced and ultimately the services of cellular and non-cellular full container vessels began in the international market.

Progress of containerization in India:

The use of containers was introduced in India in 1968 when a seminar was held jointly by the Indian National Ship owners Association, Director General of Shipping, Shipping Corporation Of India and All Indian Shippers Council.

Shipping Corporation of India had acquired first semi-containership in 1970s followed by Scindia Steam Navigation Co Ltd and India Steamship Co Ltd.  The containers were first received by Cochin port from general cargo vessels of APL.

In India containerization was developed since 1978 and different ports like Mumbai, Chennai, Haldia, Kolkata, Cochin were developed for handling containers and container ships successfully.

Subsequently Government of India had set up Inland Container Depots which is called Dry port at different parts of India.

An ICD is an organization offering a total package of activities to handle and control container and general cargo flows between road, rail and waterways and vice versa, resulting in maximum service for inland transportation at minimum costs”.

What is a container?

The International Organization  for Standardization (ISO)  has defined the container as “ An article of transport, (a) of a permanent character and accordingly strong enough to be suitable for repeated use,(b) specially designed to facilitate the carriage of goods by one or modes of transport, without intermediate reloading; (c) fitted with devices permitting its ready handling particularly its transfer from one mode of transport to another (d) so designed as to be easy to fill and empty; (e) having an internal volume of Im3(35.3 Cu ft) or more.”

Construction and Dimension

Containers are made of steel, aluminium and corten steel. Corten steel is resistant to corrosion. Containers are of two sizes viz 20 feet and 40 feet which are categorized as TEUs and FEUs (Twenty feet equivalent unit and 40 feet equivalent unit). However, extra large/Over dimensional  45 feet container is also used   for carrying the special type of cargoes used for a special type of trade.

Advantages  of containers:
  • Reduction of ship time at loading/discharge port.
  • Proper utilization of space in the ship’s hold.
  • Transhipment of container with cargo without any hustle.
  • Less multiple handling of cargo.
  • Possibility of Theft and pilferage is remote.
  • Protection against rain water damage and adverse weather condition.
  • Quality control system to carry perishable goods.
  • Reduced tally costs.
Types of containers:

Various types of container are used for different kinds of trade.  The most common container used is Dry Box container which has doors at one end only, has low tare weight which can carry various types of commodities. The details of other types of container are as under:

Open top container

This type of container has top loading facility. It is designed for the carriage of heavy and awkward cargoes, and those cargoes may be too tall to be stowed in a standard general-purpose container.  The floor of the container is made of hardwood timber plank or plywood, and there is number of cargo securing points in the floor or along with bottom side  rail.


(Generally five per side in the case of 20 foot and nine per side 40 foot, each with a safe working load of 2,023 kg.). Although open top container can be used as an alternative to a Dry box container. However, the shippers generally do not desire to load them in case the tilt should prove not to be watertight.

Flat rack container

These containers are designed to facilitate the carriage of cargo in excess of the dimensions available in either general purpose or open top containers. Example: Heavy machine and pipes. It should be noted that no tarpaulin cover is supplied, so cargo should be suitably weather protected.  There are 20 foot and 40 foot versions of this container type. The flat rack, when loaded with “ in gauge’ cargo can be handled as a standard box and shall be incorporated within container stacks ashore and in cellular and non-cellular holds.

Insulated container

These containers are insulated against loss or gain of heat.  This type of container is used in conjunction with a blown air refrigeration system to carry perishable or similar types of cargo which needs to be carried under temperature control.  It is important to note that when cargo requiring temperature control is loaded in this type of container, an air space of approximately 75 mm is left over the top of the cargo to allow free airflow circulation.

Refrigerated container

This type of container is designed to operate independently of a blown air refrigerated system and is fitted with its own refrigeration unit that requires an electrical power supply for operation.  Each container is capable of being set at its own individual carriage temperature.  When the same is used to carry temperature controlled cargo, the electrically powered container is connected to the ship’s own power supply and usually carried on deck or in a well ventilated area on Ro-RO ships. The Refer container is designed to maintain a set temperature according to the need of the cargo and that cargo should be pre-cooled to the appropriate temperature prior to loading.

Bulk Container

The container is designed for the carriage of dry powders and granular substances in bulk.  To facilitate top loading, three circular hatches (of 500mm diameter each) are fitted in the roof.  For discharge, a hatch is fitted in the right hand door of the container.  The dry bulk container resembles a dry box  but will have loading hatches in the roof, doors at one end, and a discharge hatch either in the wall opposite the doors or in the doors itself.

Tank containers:

The tank container is suitable for carriage of liquid cargoes like edible products. It carries hazardous, non hazardous and highly inflammable cargo and liquefied gases also. The tanks are owned/operated by shippers and/or specialist tank operators which are carried by shipping lines. Tank containers have capacities ranging from 19,000 liters to 24,000 liters but the actual quantity that can be loaded into the tank will depend on the specific gravity of the substance taking into account the usage space required, tank gross weight, and conformity with gross road weight limitations.


The fantainer is identical to a general-purpose container with similar internal dimensions but with the added ability that it may be easily converted into a fantainer.  This hatch can also be fitted with an electric extraction fan that must have a supply of electricity when it is operated as a fantainer. The main purpose is to remove any respiratory heat developed by the cargo and balance the internal temperature of the container plus the cargo with that of the varying ambient outside.


This type of container is usually a hi-cube 40 ft fitted with internal rails t carry hanging Garments. It is to be supervised/examined that the rails should not be overloaded or collapse.

Open sided container:

This type of container is designed to accommodate the carriage of certain special commodities, e.g., plywood, certain perishable commodities like fresh fruits, livestock etc. An Open side/ Open Top container is equipped with a tarpaulin cover and removable side grating, top rails, roof bows and door header. This allows easy access for stuffing and stripping as well as extensive possibilities of cargo ventilation.

The stuffing of container:

The stuffing of container takes place at,

  • The shipper’s premises.
  • An inland terminal.
  • The Container freight station.
  • The sea terminal or port.
  • On board the vessel ( as a very special case).
The sealing of container:

The container should be adequately sealed after stuffing. The seal must be strong and durable and shall be capable of being affixed without any hustle. The seal must be strong enough so that no one can remove the seal without breaking. The seal already fixed can not be used twice and it must have distinctive mark and number. The following are the different types of seal:

Lead wire seal:  If stuffing is done in the factory premises of exporter, the container is sealed by the Central Excise Inspector. If lead wire seal is found to be intact after arrival of the same at ICD, the Customs Authorities affix their seal on the container door without physical verification of the goods.

Customs Seal: The Customs seal, which is fixed at the ICD, is white coloured bullet seal. The bullet seal consists of the head and the base which once pressed together can not be opened without cutting.

Shipping line seal: This seal is fixed by the shipping line and each line maintains its own distinct numbering system. The consignor/shippers may also put their seal in addition to the above seals.

External examination:
  • The container should not be structurally unsound.
  • The containers should be free of cracks, holes, dents.
  • The data loggers should be installed and duly celebrated inside the Refer containers to record temperature.
  • Loading, discharging and relief valves on tank containers should be operated satisfactorily.
Internal examination: 
  • The container should be free of dirt, grease and liquid.
  • The interior should be free from any sweat, frost and water.
  • The container should be free of any signs that vermin or pests are present or have been present.
  • The watertightness should be examined by light test i.e entering into the containers, closing both doors and to observe for any ingress of light.
Container Services:

Different types of container services are available for transportation of goods. The details are as under:

Full container Load (FCL/FCL):   Single consignor’s goods are stuffed in a container which is generally delivered at the consignee’s warehouse at the final destination.

Less than containers Load(LCL/LCL): Shipping Company stuff cargoes  of various consignors at the port. The Carrier’s agents dyestuff the cargo from the container and deliver the same to different parties.

FCL/LCL : The consignment of a single consignor is stuffed into the container and after arrival at the destination , the container is destuffed and is carried away by the different consignees. The Carriers is responsible for unpacking the container.

LCL/FCL:  The consignment of various parties is sent to the port where the shipping Company consolidates and packs the cargo stuffed in a single container for delivery of the same to individual consignees after completion of overseas transits. Destuffing will be done by the consignees.

Details of some ICDS / CFs’ Already Commissioned & their status

Sl. No. Location Year of Commissioning Operational Non-Operational Authority
1. Tughlakabad 1993 yes Concor
2. Moradabad 1993 yes Concor
3. Dhandari Kalan 1993 yes Concor (only rail )
4. Ludhiana 1993 yes PSWC
5. Jallandhar 1994 yes PSWC
6. Udaipur 1998 yes CWC
7. Kota 1998 yes CWC
8. Kanpur 1995 yes PSWC
9. Varanasi 1997 yes CWC
10. Raipur 1998 yes CWC
11. Malanpur 1998 yes Concor
12. Agra 1997 yes Concor
13. Jaipur 1994 yes RSIC
14. Meert 1998 yes UPSWC
15. Ludhiana 1998 yes Overseas warehousing


Western Region :

Sl. No. Location Year of Commissioning Operational Non-Operational Authority
1. Sabarmati 1993 yes Concor
2. Kandla 1993 yes Concor
3. Kandla 1996 yes CWC
4. Surat 1995 yes CWC
5. JNP 1989 yes CWC
6. Muland 1993 yes Concor
7 New Muland 1994 yes Concor
8. Nasik 1997 yes CWC
9. Pune 1990 yes CWC
10. Nagpur 1997 yes Concor



South / South Central Region :

Sl. No. Location Year of Commiss-ioning Operational Non-Operational Authority
1. Nagpur 1996 yes Concor
2. Tandiarpet 1993 yes Concor
3. Coimbatore 1994 yes Concor
4. Sanatnagar 1993 yes Concor
5. Anaparti 1996 yes Concor
6. Chirala 1996 yes Concor
7 Madurai 1999 yes Concor
8. Tuticorin 1992 yes SEC Services
9. Channai 1997 Viking Warehousing


Eastern Regions :

Sl. No. Location Year of Commiss-ioning Operational Non-Operational Authority
1 Cossipur Road 1993 yes CONCOR
2 Amingaon 1993 yes Concor
3 Haldia 1994 yes Concor
4 Kolkata Port 1994 yes CWC
5 Paradeep Port 1998 yes CWC


CWC      :               Central Warehousing Corporation

Concor  :               Container Corporation of India Ltd.

MSWC  :               Maharashtra State Warehousing Corporation.


The stowage of container 

In case of full container vessel  the stowage positions  of containers are pre planned for effective loading since delay in loading may be caused  due to short turn round time of a  ship , changing information, arriving of containers in the last minute etc. It is the duty of the Ship’s officers  to pay particular attention to the condition of the containers  prior to loading of the same, stowage positions and labeling of dangerous goods containers, securing of cargo, specially in case of flat rack container, the declared contents of refrigerated containers to maintain correct temperature etc.  If the containers are stowed in the fore and aft line the cargo inside the container gets the benefit of the restraint of the side walls.  Where the containers are stowed athwart, the possibility of damage to cargo inside the container is possible due to rolling of the ship during heavy weather.

Control of damage to containerized cargo

The International Union of Marine Insurers has found out major insurance claims in respect of containerized cargo due to the following reasons:

  • Breakage, dents and abrasions.
  • Contamination, stains and leakage.
  • Fresh water damage
  • Sea water damage.
  • Sweat.
  • Theft and skilful pilferage.

The failure of taking proper precautions, selection of structurally unsound container, poor stowage inside the container and environmental changes at different places during transit generally contribute such losses to a great extent.

  • Condensation may occur in containers due to unfavourable combination of humidity in the atmosphere, temperature changes, types of commodities shipped and the mode of packing. The condensations are of two types. One type of condensation may occur due to container itself and other may develop due to inherent nature of cargo. The former occurs when the metal of the container is exposed to a temperature lower than the condensation temperature of the air inside the container. Water drops which form as a result on the inner faces of the container roof, fall on to the cargo wetting it.


  • Goods permeable to water, packing of cardboard and unseasoned timber may also cause condensation problem as they tend to increase the degree of humidity in the atmosphere particularly when they are placed inside the container after they have absorbed water vapour from the atmosphere of very damp climates.
The Risk of condensation damage can be reduced provided the following precautions are adopted:
  • Utilize internally lined container.
  • Stuffing of containers shall be carried out as early as possible under cover and stuffing during rainy season may be avoided, if possible.
  • Dry and seasoned goods may be used for securing the goods.
  • De humidifiers such as silica gel may be used in packages, particularly those that contain goods which present condensation problem when carried in containers.
  • Cargo may be covered with some protection to avoid falling of droplets which may drip from the roof of the container.

The measures suggested as above are simple and shall not be expensive but the loss can be minimized substantially.

Author : Sumon Ganguly, (Dy Manager)

National Insurance Co Ltd. Kolkata