How do products made around the globe make their journey to your local store? Have you ever paused to think how global shipping works? A Logistics Manager with East West had a rare opportunity to visit the busy Port of Charleston and get a first-hand look at the exciting import industry. Her story is below:
I had an amazing opportunity to visit the Port of Charleston (the 4th busiest container port in the US, servicing 140 countries and handling $3 Million dollars of cargo every HOUR) and get an up close and personal experience on how freight is moved from all over the world to the United States. I met with the Regional Operations Director of OOCL, a shipping line based out of Hong Kong, who showed us around the Port of Charleston and even arranged for us to board a working vessel. Seeing the port working in action was truly an eye opening experience and brought to my attention the fact that shipping merchandise across the world isn't such a simple process as some people may imagine.
The day I visited the port, it was bustling with activity. The first stop we made was the South Carolina State Ports Authority office. From there, we received an overview of how the port was laid out and saw the different areas for loading and unloading containers, the berthing stations for vessels, as well as the many different yards for empty, refrigerated, and available containers for pick-up. Our next stop was aboard the OOCL Norfolk, a vessel over 850 feet long, where we were warmly greeted by the captain and his crew.
Captain Yang of the OOCL Norfolk showed us around his ship and explained to us how the containers were loaded onto the vessel and secured during the long voyage. Many containers are loaded under the ship’s deck, but most are stacked up to seven high across the ship’s deck. Metal lashes are secured in an X shape across each container on the bottom row as well as on the containers on the outermost side. These lashings keep the containers fastened to the vessel in addition to locks on the bottom corners on the container that secure that particular container to the one below it. In the ballast room on the vessel, the First Mate of the OOCL Norfolk showed us an intimidating control station that monitors the weight of the ship while containers are being loaded and offloaded. When a container is removed from the vessel, seawater is pumped into the ship’s hull to help balance the ship from the now empty container weight. Similarly, when a container is loaded on a vessel, seawater is pumped back out from the departments in the hull to balance the additional weight.
Offloading containers at each port is a dangerous balancing act and a carefully organized process. From the steering room aboard the vessel, I had a bird’s eye view of the port in action. Large cranes loaded containers onto the vessel behind the Norfolk and another crane worked to remove containers, all while dray drivers picked and removed available containers from the port. Captain Yang explained the process of how containers were loaded onto the vessel at the port of origin, with each container space carefully planned according to the weight and port of discharge.
Our vessel tour was finally complete and we wished the gracious crew a safe trip on the next leg of their journey at sea. As we departed the port, we noticed many containers in route via truck. Once the goods have been successfully unloaded at their final destination, a driver will take the empty container back to the port within a certain number of days after it arrived and that container will be loaded back onto a different vessel ready for another global trek.
Visiting the port in person and boarding a cargo vessel was an impressive experience that put moving freight around the world into a new perspective for me as a Logistics Manager for East West. Learning about the detailed processes and the behind the scenes factors to ship containerized product was incredibly fascinating, and was a trip that will certainly not soon be forgotten.
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