Having the most profound impact on containerization and cargo-handling operations were the number of huge containerships that came online in the mid-1990s. In order to replace wasteful ships, meet shippers' demands, and maximize loads, larger, faster and more efficient containerships began to be introduced. The largest, dubbed super containers or post-Panamax vessels were engineered to carry 4,000 to 5,000 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs), rather than the most prevalent generation capacity of 3,000 to 3,400 TEUs. These large vessels have a force on land operations such as on-dock rail services and intermodal connections. Additionally, cranes must have a broad enough reach in order to stretch across as many as six containers (Marine cargo handling, 2010).
Many ports across the world have begun to gear up for the anticipated growth in container traffic, which is thought to likely increase for all of the world's major trades. Trade with Asia and Latin America has been projected to grow the fastest. Container traffic between Europe and Asia is thought to going to expand at a faster rate than the U.S. - Asian route. A more uncertain region was South America. Many ports located there lack planning, financing, or room for expansion. These factors, coupled with a recent trade boom, caused a shipping bottleneck. Nevertheless, North American along with South American volumes were expected to continue to grow at a respectable rate. In particular, American shippers saw an end to the double-digit growth in cargo traffic to South America, due to the anticipated entry of global carriers, accompanied by fears of overcapacity and falling freight rates. Unlike the South American ports, those in the United States and Europe are well equipped to handle increased container traffic and should not require large investments. However, some observers foresee increased competition among the European ports (Marine cargo handling, 2010).
In the meantime, the labor unions geared up for the internationalization of shipping lines and increased containerized cargo traffic. Since both of these factors posed a frightening threat to future longshoremen employment, ILWU officials met with labor delegates from 15 Pacific Rim nations in San Francisco in 1993 to investigate the possibility of international solidarity among shipping employees. One suggested way of showing international labor support was that when one union came under attack by a particular company, other unions through their operations with that company would send a message of protest. Sympathy strikes and boycotts are generally prohibited in the United States, but other forms of protest are allowed (Marine cargo handling, 2010).
Widespread introduction of computers affected all forms of port activities and extended into every sector of cargo handling. A number of ports in North America and Europe introduced computers for office administration tasks, such as payroll and accounting. Several ports applied computers to the actual work of container control and cargo clearance, and they also developed their own information retrieval systems. Computers eventually were used for all aspects of port operation, and in the not too distant future, containerized cargo might be electronically inspected for damage, logged in by some type of electronic or laser-sensing device, coded, and recorded by computer (Marine cargo handling, 2010).
Today the world economy has become very globalized. The economic system is shifting from one with distinct local and national markets, separated by trade barriers, distance, time, and culture, to one that is increasingly converging and integrating into a global economy. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States was the world's leading trader in 1998, accounting for about one billion tons of ocean-bound trade out of about 2.4 billion tons of total foreign trade. In 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately $736 billion of goods were shipped via ocean vessels and passed through U.S. ports. By 2020, international trade is estimated to more than double (by weight) within the United States, with the majority of this trade projected to move via ocean shipping (Transportation, 2010).
The United States reliance on seas and waterways has been vital to its economic success and national security. The pool of skilled labor working on U.S. flag vessels is also a national security asset. This workforce is relied upon to meet surges in shipping needs in the advent of emergencies. The merchant marine has played a historical role in military conflicts. In 1996, the Maritime Security Act established the maritime security program to support a fleet of U.S. commercial vessels with American crews to support the military and economic security of the country; approximately 47 vessels participate in this program (Transportation, 2010).
The inland waterways are also a national security asset. The 1920 Jones Act required domestic waterborne commerce to be transported in vessels built in the United States, documented under U.S. laws, and owned by U.S. citizens. The Jones Act covers over 42,000 commercial vessels, 124,000 jobs, and $15 billion in economic activity. Many other countries have similar laws restricting foreign access to domestic trade shipped via waterways (Transportation, 2010).
The Maritime Transportation System is also vital to national security. The ability to rapidly deploy troops and materials worldwide is critical to the country's defense. The Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA) is a standby agreement intended to make commercial, intermodal dry cargo capacity and supporting infrastructure available to meet contingency deployment needs of the Department of Defense. Since World War II, approximately 95% of all military equipment and material sent to combat and crisis areas were ship cargo transported by ocean vessels. For example, during the Persian Gulf War, nearly all domestic supplies intended for U.S. military forces traveled by ship. Marine transportation is an important use of the ocean. Increased demands will be placed on U.S. ports and waterways as domestic and international trade continues to grow. These increases in the use of waterways and port facilities must be attained while still protecting human health and the environment (Transportation, 2010).
Davis, Nikki. (n.d.). Guide to Using Ocean Freight. Retrieved May 3, 2010, from Web site: