Feeder vessels are medium-sized ships (up to 3000 TEU) which carry between 300 and 1000 containers on average. Feeder vessels mainly collect shipping containers from different ports and transport them to central container terminals or transshipment hubs where they are loaded to bigger vessels for further transport.

In general, container ships are classified into seven major size categories: small feeder, feeder, feedermax, Panamax, Post-Panamax, New Panamax and ultra-large. The small feeders carry up to 1000 TEU, feeders between 1001 and 2000 and feedermax until up to 3000 TEU.

The demand for this so-called “hub and spoke model” in container logistics was growing during the last few years with the rise of mega-ships. Feeder operators have established predefined routes over the years and most of them are operated by a local business at low volumes. Because they sometimes serve terminals that are too small to have their lifting equipment, some feeder vessels are geared with cranes on board.

a feeder level at the sea

The booking process is simple: carriers bring their containers and book them as SOCs with the feeder operator, most of the time even for empty container repositioning. When shipping lines book a slot, their containers usually travel on a service bill of lading issued by the feeder operator to the mainline carrier. Globally, 124 carriers act as feeder operators with an annual trade capacity of 43 million TEU split into dedicated operators (mainline shipping companies handling the feedering of their own containers) and common carriers (smaller shipping lines moving another carrier’s boxes).

Most of the time feedering is closely connected to transshipment hubs. Let me give you an example: The average number of North European mainline port calls is four; any cargo on board for other ports will have to be a feeder. Only 25 ports worldwide could be considered dominant transshipment ports, for example, Bremerhaven (57% transshipment share) and Wilhelmshaven (70%) in Northern Europe, nine ports in the Mediterranean followed by five transshipment hubs in the Far East. By far the highest transshipment volume has Singapore with 28.5 million TEU in 2017.

The biggest global feeder operators

x-Press Feeders and Unifeeder are the two biggest pure feeder operators. Most of the biggest feeder operators are mainline carriers who operate their fleet of smaller vessels for transshipment or feedering.

list of the biggest global feeder operators

x-Press feeders started their operations in 1972 and is now the world’s largest pure feeder operator. They operate throughout Asia, the Middle East, Caribbean, Central America and Europe with a staff of 300. They do not own, lease or operate containers but operate more than 110 vessels (of which 40 are owned) up to the new Panamax size. With a volume of 5.6 million TEU in 2018, they’re the 14th biggest container operator according to Alphaliner.

Unifeeder is the European market leader with 2.1 Mio TEU per year, up to 8000 port calls and 400 employees. They operate 36 vessels and bought the feedertech group recently. Unifeeder is owned by DP World, one of the biggest global container terminal operators.

How can Freight Forwarders work with Feeders to increase flexibility?

Feeder operators offer a great chance for freight forwarders to increase their flexibility and decrease their dependency from shipping lines. How? Most of the time, freight forwarders get their containers together with the slot on the vessel from their shipping line. Sometimes that is not a problem at all, sometimes this can result in tremendous demurrage & detention charges because every day forwarders exceed the number of free days they get charged tremendous amounts. Depending on the pick-up and drop-off location, it is difficult for carriers to offer containers at good prices, often-times they can only offer the wrong type, quantity or condition.

SOC containers solve the problem for freight forwarders! If you, as a freight forwarder, can source your own containers, just book the slot with the feeder operator of your choice and suddenly have all parts of the shipping process under your control! Use xChange, the only neutral online platform in container logistics, to find containers in 2500 locations and ship them with the feeder operator of your choice to your destination. Shipping your containers as SOCs has three main benefits: You increase your flexibility, avoid demurrage & detention charges and have always equipment available where you need it. Click on the banner below and increase your flexibility with xChange.

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