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Distribution logistics: ocean transport

Posted by SI-LOG on 22/02/2019

Distribution logistics: ocean transport

SI-LOG 22/02/2019 pubblicato in english, transport

Freight transport by sea has been widely used throughout recorded history.

The maritime transport is historically the most used. Popular since the dawn of humanity, nowadays about 90% of everything we buy arrives to our country via containers ships. There are currently over 20 million shipping containers in the world, and roughly 10 million of them are moving on vessels at any given time of the year. Around the world there are about 50 thousand merchant ships, carrying over 200 million containers worldwide, for a total of thousands of tons. Research studies indicate that shipping by vessel is by far the most environmentally friendly method of transport. 

In this article we illustrate the basics of maritime transport to help you understand how an international sea shipment works.

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Shipping by sea: much more than just transport

International shipments by sea are not limited to the simple transfer of goods from one place to another, through special ships. This type of transport must be subject to specific customs, legal, commercial and insurance aspects, for which it is good to be supported by a valid logistics provider. For more information on how to choose the most suitable one, you can read the article "5 factors to consider when choosing a logistics provider".

Transportation by sea in short

Containers are the blood cells of world’s economy, and the idea of “globalization” would not even exist without the product flow created by containers. Shipments by sea can be summarized as follows: the goods are packed according to their nature, shape and size, and the forwarder reserves the container or the space required for transportation. The goods are moved to the port and pass through the customs of the point of origin. Once the customs have passed, the goods are loaded into containers, through two modes (FCL and LCL, see next paragraph) and loaded onto the merchant ship.


Loading mode for sea transport

Maritime transport involves the movement of goods mainly in two ways: 

when shipping via sea-freight, you can either fill a container with your own goods (FCL) or share a container (LCL) - but which is the one for you? Today, we're comparing the two so that you can identify which process will be most efficient for you and your business. When you use via sea freight, your goods are loaded into a container and stored on a vessel for transit. LCL and FCL are the two methods of shipping your goods. The best method to use usually depends on the size and volume of product that you’re importing;

  • LCL is when goods are in a shared container (so you can import a small amount),
  • whereas FCL is when your goods are in a container on their own (so you can import larger volumes).

Let's see more specifically what is meant by transport FCL and LCL. What is LCL? And what is FCL?

  • LCL (less than container load) shipping is a method of shipping that consolidations multiple shipments into one shared container. This means that businesses wanting to import smaller volumes of stock can pay for the volume of space they use within a shipping container as opposed to having to rent out the entire container. LCL shipping can be an easy cheaper alternative option to FCL (Full Container Load) shipping. The essential difference is that instead of filling an entire container with your goods, you’re sharing a container with other importers. This mode of transport means that you don’t have to buy enough stock to fill an entire container load – and that, instead of paying for an entire container, you only pay for the space inside of one that you use. This is particularly helpful for smaller businesses, or first-time importers who are just testing the waters.
  • FCL (full container load) is when you pay for the use of an entire container instead of paying to use part of it. When shipping using FCL, there is a flat rate for the container and you have access to all the available space within it. If you’re looking to import a large amount of stock (over about 20 cubic meters) then FCL (full container load) shipping may be the method for you. All you need to do is establish the container size you’ll need and understand some key bits of the process. As your goods are the only thing in the container it will be loaded by your supplier and unloaded by you on arrival.  

It’s not as simple as “Pros and Cons” when talking about LCL and FCL as neither method is superior; it just depends which is more suitable for your needs. Often, depending on the size and volume of your shipment will dictate which one you need to use.


However, there are a few advantages and disadvantages to each method depending on your situation that could help you decide which is best for you

Cost: FCL is cheaper per CBM while LCL is a cheap way to ship small volumes. 

Ordering/Stock control: LCL is very flexible, on FCL specific volumes are required. 

Loading: With FCL, only you and supplier touch the goods reducing the chance of damage. FCL shipments are loaded into a container by your supplier, that container is sealed, and that container is delivered to you, still sealed. LCL shipments are handled on a few more occasions.  They are loaded onto a vehicle at the factory, unloaded into a warehouse by the port and loaded into a shared container.

Delivery: LCL offers convenient delivery options. Another difference between LCL and FCL is the way that your goods will be delivered to you. When you import using FCL shipping, your goods will be delivered to you in a container on the back of a very large truck. LCL shipments, however, are delivered (often palletised) on the back of a truck.  This is a lot easier to unload and if your delivery location has restricted access you can request a smaller truck to deliver.


In conclusion, the maritime TRANSPORT is one of the most used transports, for which every year thousands of containers and merchant ships are moved. The advantages in terms of cost, restrictions and load capacity make it the most suitable transport in case of large quantities of goods. 

Click on the image below and get for free our white-paper on the disruptive trends that are changing the world of logistics.


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➡️ Do you want further information about distribution logistics? Check this article and find out all you are interested in!

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