A transshipment is when cargo or a container is moved from one vessel to another while in transit to its final destination. Transshipped containers count twice in the port performance because waterside cranes handle them for unloading from arriving vessel A and loading onto departing vessel B again.

A ship in front of a terminal waiting for unloading transshipped containers

An excellent example of a transshipment would be the transport from Durban to Manila because there is no direct connection between the two ports. Containers bound for Manila are transported on one vessel from South Africa to Singapore and then reloaded onto a second vessel from Singapore to Manila.

Singapore would be the transshipment hub (a port that has connections to origin and destination) in this case. Most of the big shipping lines, for instance, Maersk or MSC, have services covering every possible location via direct connection or transshipment hubs.

Transshipment process

Reasons for transshipments

In general, there are three main reasons for when a transshipment makes sense:

  • When there is no (or only an expensive) direct air, land, or sea link between importer and exporter of goods. Consolidation is, when small shipments are combined into a large shipment, dividing a shipment at the port of destination is called deconsolidation.
  • When the intended port of destination is not available because of low tide or if the port is not able to accommodate big vessels
  • To move cargo from one country to another by transshipment to evade trade restrictions. At the moment the US administration claims China to ship their steel through Vietnam or other Asian countries to avoid tariffs.


But it takes more time! Transshipping is usually done to save money on shipping costs, but it leads to increased transport times. Damages or loss of container and cargo are also more likely because of the loading and unloading of the container at the transshipment hub.

What is a transshipment?  Some people confuse it with cargo in transit, which is something completely different. Cargo in transit relates to countries that don’t have a seaport and have to use other countries port in order to export/ import their goods.

Tracking your Transshipment

When the cargo is loaded on to the vessel, the consignee receives the Bill of Lading with the details of the vessel. If the cargo is being transshipped and the consignee is not informed, the consignee may have difficulty tracking the shipment. But many shipping lines have set up web-based tracking systems, that notifies the consignee when the cargo is being transshipped and updates the details on the vessel it is arriving in and the container terminal or CFS it will be taken to. Such tracking systems are important for cargo that goes through transshipment.