Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Short Sea Shipping

Short sea shipping is simply moving goods and passengers along a coastal route, as opposed to a cross-ocean voyage. It is the oldest form of trade by sea: the ancient Phoenicians, who spent a most nights anchored or in port, established trade routes along the coasts of north Africa, Asia Minor and Europe between the sixteenth and fourth centuries BC. It remains an important component of shipping today, and for reasons the old Phoenicians never would have conceived of.

Short sea shipping has several advantages over land-based modes of shipping including
  • reduced congestion on highways and other roads (a barge can carry as much cargo as 100 - 200 semi trailers)
  • reduced carbon emissions and other pollutants
  • reduced payroll and operations costs
  • reduced chance of damage or theft
The disadvantages of short sea shipping including slower travel times and the need to transfer some cargo to land-based modes for final delivery.
In Europe today, about 40 percent of freight moves, at some point in its travels, via short sea shipping corridors (which includes rivers and canals). Most commonly moved this way are bulk products (grain, coal, etc.), petroleum products, passengers, and intermodal containers (containers that travel by ship, train or truck trailer).

In North America, traditional reliance on railroads and trucks has left short-shipping routes, often called "marine highways" under-utilized. The most famous marine highway in North America is the Alaska Marine Highway System which carries mostly passengers and vehicles between ports in Alaska, British Columbia, and the state of Washington. The system carries abut 350,000 passengers and 100,000 vehicles each year. The US and Canadian agencies responsible for the Saint Lawrence Seaway operate an intermodal system -- Highway H2O -- that carries about 40 million tons of cargo a year.

The US, under a 2007 law designed to increase the country's energy independence and security, has started a program to fund new or expand current marine highways (pictured on the map above). The program was set up to fund infrastructure construction and improvements, as well as reduce the tax burden on shippers and their customers.

For more on America's Marine Highway Program, click on the Maritime Administration's web site here.


  1. This can be one of the safest forms of shipping cargo. Moving cargo through the coast has fewer chances of theft and damage because this type of transportation system does not have to cross all throughout the vast oceans, so there will be lesser costs and cargos won’t be experiencing congestion and pollution along the way.

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