Transhipment and Feedering 2018 - Trades and Operators - Ships and Hubs

An invisible trade

“Transhipment and Feedering” is all about an invisible trade. About containers that do not exist in statistics on the worldwide carriage of full containers. Why not?

It is “commercial” full containers that are being counted to assess the world full container trade, which reached around 168 million TEU in 2017. Commercial full containers are shipped on a Bill of Lading issued by the shipping company to the shipper. This Bill of Lading covers the carriage of the boxes from their (first) port of loading until the (ultimate) port of destination.

In contrast, a feeder move constitutes an operational port-to-port activity, arranged by the mainline carrier using the services of a feeder company. Feeder containers usually travel on a Service Bill of Lading issued by the feeder operator to his principal, the mainline carrier. In the case of feedering, the container, full or empty, is the cargo. Relevant statistics do no exists, but the total number of feedered containers could be estimated at 65 million TEU worldwide.

Feeder boxes may not exist in full container trade statistics, they count double in port-handled container statistics. In that case, both the move from the mainline vessel and the handling into the feeder are counted.

Feedering is…

Feedering is the first or last maritime leg of an ocean borne container transport, where the ports of loading or discharge of the mainline containership are not the same as the ultimate origin or destination port of the container. As the regional part of the global container transport system, feedering is an integrated part of the door-to-door transport chain.

Feedering is a short haul trade between a deepsea hub and regional ports that do not have sufficient cargo to warrant a direct call from a mainline service, or are lacking the infrastructure to handle larger vessels.

Transhipment hubs

Feedering involves transhipment. Containers are discharged at a direct port of call, the hub, for on-carriage to their final destination, the feeder port.

The direct mainline port of call serving as a hub can either be a gateway: a port serving its direct hinterland, or a port specifically built for processing transhipment. If used for transhipment, they are both referred to as a hub. A port handling more than 50% transhipment is a dominant transhipment port.

In 2017, around twenty-five ports could be considered a dominant transhipment port. Only two such ports can be found in North Europe: Bremerhaven (57% transhipment share) and Wilhelmshaven/ JadeWeserPort (70%).

The Mediterranean accommodates the largest number of such hubs: nine with an average transhipment share of 79%, followed by the Far East: five dominant transhipment ports, average 71%. The hub port with the highest transhipment shares are Freeport (Bahamas, 99%) and Marsaxlokk (Malta, 95%). Singapore is, undisputed, the one with the highest transhipment volume: 28.5 million TEU (2017).

Feeder operators, Dedicated and Common

Dynamar has identified 124 shipping companies worldwide, offering feeder services, split into:

  • Dedicated operators: mainline shipping companies handling the feedering of their own boxes
  • Common carriers: smaller shipping lines moving another carrier’s boxes

Thirteen dedicated carriers deploy the largest ships serving as a feeder. Another four -CMA CGM, Maersk Line, PIL, ZIM- operate their feedering business under separate brands also active as common carriers. The remaining 107 common feeder carriers are clearly ruling the overall feeder scene by company numbers.

Most, if not nearly all, companies carrying feeder containers are also taking regional cargo. It is believed that only X-Press Feeders, present in all trades, is the only pure feeder operator. It is also the world’s third largest feeder operator.

Do feeder ships exist?

Feeder is basically a vessel classification used in the chartering industry, comprising four different capacity categories of between 1,000 TEU and 2,750 TEU. Essentially, any container ship can carry any container. Equally, feeder containers are similar to any other container.

That said, in North Europe container vessels have been designed and built with the specific purpose of feedering in mind. A somewhat famous ship in this respect is the Sietas “type 168”, a partly hatchcoverless vessel. More than forty “type 168” units have been built with a capacity of 670 TEU, plus another few of 1,010 TEU each. A good number of them are Ice-class A1, a requirement to serve the Baltic trades during the winter season.

As intra-Europe containers come in a large variety of types and sorts, it is in particular there where often non-cellular, i.e. multipurpose feeder vessels are being deployed. But in general, cellular container ships on the intra-Europe routes too require the ability of a flexible stowage configuration. This is an absolute need to carry, next to the common 20’ and 40’ units, such odd sizes as 30’ boxes, 40’ high cubes, 45’ pallet-wides, half height tanks, you name it.

The size of feeder ships

The adage that, rather than the size of the mainline ship, the capability of a port decides upon the size of the feeder ship is unchanged. As many feeder ports have become more capable over time, they have allowed the feeder ship to grow larger too.

However, not half as big as it is often thought! It is 1,300 TEU on average today against 700 TEU ten years ago for the common feeder ship. And 2,000 TEU average against 1,200 TEU for those employed by the dedicated operator. There are always exceptions: recently MSC used a 10,000 TEU ship on to  Antwerp-Eastern Baltic feeder route.

The size of the mainline vessel too plays a role. Their much larger call sizes require either more or larger, if can, feeder vessels to distribute the cargo to the feeder port, their final destination.

As of early June (2018), the North Europe-Far East trade counted eighteen weekly services, operated by nine different carriers organised in three Alliances (2M/6 services, Ocean Alliance/6, THE Alliance/5), plus Hyundai/1 operating standalone. The average capacity of all 205 ships employed was 15,000 TEU and total shipboard space was 3,183,000 TEU. The largest vessel measured 21,400 TEU (CoscoLS/OOCL); the smallest one 4,100 TEU (Hyundai). The average number of North European mainline port calls is four; any cargo on board for other ports will have to be feedered…

Transhipment & Feedering (2018) provides a true wealth of what the title of the report promises. It is in particular recommended to check the following chapters/sub-chapters:

- The highly interesting section Principles of Feedering and Transhipment, Ships and Hubs

- The carriers section providing profiles on 12 twelve dedicated and 14 common feeder operators

- The many services of all 124 worldwide feeder operators as they are given by individual trade,

   ships deployed, average and total shipboard capacity, weekly rotations, annual trade capacity

Eight feeder markets extensively assessed are:

Indian Sub Continent - Latin America - Mediterranean - Middle East - North Europe - Northeast Asia - Southeast Asia - Sub-Saharan Africa - complemented with smaller Australia and North America. Contents per trade: introduction, trade definition, characteristics, mainline connections and hubs, feeder calls, annual trade capacity and trade specific information.



The world’s 10 largest dedicated and common feeder operators


 Number of

Number of


Annual trade

feeder operator



TEU capacity







Maersk Line





X-Press Feeders




















Arkas Line















Cosco Shipping Line





Total top 10 feeder operators





Share top 10





Source: Schedet

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