View Full Version : Ports and containers

12-01-2014, 02:50 AM
I am trying to set a scene at a shipping port, in Barcelona. Basically, the bad guys are trying to hide themselves in a container in order to escape. My MC had figured out their plan, and now needs to hunt for them.

But. I have NO idea how he'd proceed, how containers are loaded, stored, the access to them etc. I almost feel like I don't know enough to ask sensible questions!

Does anyone have any knowledge of or experience relating to large ports and the shipping of freight?

12-01-2014, 03:20 AM
I realize this is wikipedia, but it might give you enough information to formulate questions.



King Neptune
12-01-2014, 03:54 AM
Containers are usually loaded, filled with goods, by a manufacturer or a shipping company. The containers ware then taken to a container transshipment hub, where they are directed to what ever port they will be going thorough. At the hub and the port they are usually set on racks several containers high until their ship is ready to be loaded. They they are lifted down and either taken directly onto a ship or they are put on a rail car with a few other containers.

If your guys got into a container that is due to be shipped out in a week, they'll spend a week on one of those racks. It isn't easy to move a container. They weigh as much as 40 tons loaded, and they aren't designed to be moved by anything, except the lift trucks.

I have been at transhipment hubs in rail yards and at ports. There are many, many containers around, and they are almost identical.

12-01-2014, 04:29 AM
Containers come in various sizes, although usually 20 and 40 foot lengths. A 20 foot length is a TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit). The largest ships can contain over 15,000 TEUs. A container ship lost 600 - 700 containers in the Bay of Biscay recently and that wasn't even 10% of its load.

Barcelona does something like 1,700,000 TEUs a year. That's an average of over 4,500 TEUs per day, or a minimum of 2,250 40 foot containers a day. When a ship arrives, the yard will then end up with all the containers from the ship, and have ready to load the same amount. Turn around can be as little as 24 hours in some ports.

In other words, a lot of containers.

Each container has a unique number. Go down to your nearest railroad crossing where the trains go through slowly and you'll see the numbering on the containers. The containers have to be kept track of by number and location in the yard.

When Penn Central (a railroad) went bankrupt, the bankruptcy court couldn't find over 3,000 boxcars. Containers are easy to lose. It's next to impossible to find a container without using the number and the location system.

Unless it has unique graffiti on it.

Containers are usually sealed with a padlock and a seal made out of plastic. The shipper seals the container after it is loaded. Only containers that aren't locked and seal are empty.

Containers are stacked like Legos. Each container locks into the one below it, and can be stacked 6 or 7 high. Then you put another stack in front, as well as doing rows. Most containers can't be entered because there's a container at the door blocking the way.

Containers are moved with specialized lift equipment.

Ports are heavily regulated for access. Your hero isn't going to be able to wander around much, unless he has clearance. The way he'd have to find the "right" container is know where the container originated from. That will narrow down the possible number of containers to a manageable number. However, the only way he's going to know that is by the computer printout that the port would have to provide him with.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

12-01-2014, 04:48 AM
Thanks guys, very helpful. Jim, as ever you're a font of knowledge.