Sea Freight

What Is Sea Freight?

Additionally referred to as ocean freight, sea freight is cargo shipped by sea, either coastal via domestic shipping routes or international waters (imports and exports).

Sea Freight Options

Containerised: Sea freight cargo packed and stowed in shipping containers for onward transport aboard a container ship. This is ideal for a diverse variety of goods, including commodities that require refrigeration (Reefers). Containerised consignments can easily be interchanged between transportation modes (i.e. ships, trucks and trains) without the need to repack the contents. Containerisation is therefore a popular and cost-effective sea freight option.
Smaller consignments consisting of goods that do not fill a shipping container can be grouped with other shipments, thereby sharing a container. Referred to as a Less Than Container Load (LCL) consignment, resulting shipping container space and associated costs are optimised for the voyage, reducing transportation costs to the benefit of the consignee/consignor.

Bulk: Unpacked or loose commodities stored in the hull of a ship for transport, such as scrap steel, oil, grain, coal, gravel, etc. Merchant vessels that carry this variety of cargo are often called bulk carriers, bulk freighters or bulkers.

RORO: An abbreviation for roll-on/roll-off, refers to sea freight vessels designed to carry wheeled cargo, such as cars, buses, trucks, etc. Vehicles can be driven on and off the ship via built-in access ramps, avoiding any specialised loading equipment.

Oversized: Large sea freight consignments that exceed standard dimensions such as boats, trucks, agricultural equipment, mining machinery, cherry-pickers, etc. Oversized cargo does not provide the same level of efficiency in terms of vessel space/capacity afforded by containerised freight. For this reason, resulting transport costs can be high, exacerbated further if specialist equipment is required to crane and transport goods.

Shipping Rates

The way in which sea freight rates are calculated varies between carriers and transport providers. Charges typically pivot on the following…

  • Origin and destination.
  • Vessel availability and market saturation.
  • Fuel prices.
  • Port congestion.
  • Seasonal demand.
  • Cargo size and weight.
  • The type of shipment (i.e. RORO, bulk, containerised, refrigerated, oversized, etc).
  • Commodity.

Containerised shipments are a common sea freight option, as services are widely available, reasonably priced and suitable for a variety of cargo types (including refrigerated goods). Even smaller consignments (LCL shipments) are grouped with other mixed goods to collectively fill a single shipping container, optimising the space and resulting costs. Charged at a minimum of one cubic metre or one tonne (whichever is greater)

Why Send Cargo By Sea?

Sea freight is a cost-effective and reliable mode of transport across the globe. With the advent of modern containerisation, international demand for services continues to grow as markets enjoy an improved level of transport efficiency, competition and associated costs. Where time is not a primary consideration, sea freight is the obvious choice in contrast to air freight for international cargo.