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Short sea shipping

The modern terms short sea shipping, marine highway and motorways of the sea refer to the historical terms coastal trade, coastal shipping, coasting trade and coastwise trade, which encompass the movement of cargo and passengers mainly by sea along a coast, without crossing an ocean.[1] 'Deep-sea shipping', 'intercontinental shipping' or 'ocean shipping' refers to maritime traffic that crosses oceans. While 'short-sea shipping' is the term used in Europe, the United States also has used the term, 'marine highway'.[2]

Historically, many developed English-speaking countries used the British term 'coasting trade' or 'coastwise trade', which is still used.[2] The coastwise slave trade referred to the domestic slave trade in the United States that shipped slaves by water from the Upper South to major markets, especially New Orleans.

The United States maintained this term from its colonial era and began regulating the coastwise trade as early as 1793, with the Congressional passage of "An act for enrolling and licensing ships and vessels to be employed in the coasting trade and fisheries, and for regulating the same", which passed on 18 February that year.[3] Over the years, it has been codified as 46 U.S.C., Coastwise Trade.[4]

Some short sea ship vessels are small enough to travel inland on inland waterways. Short sea shipping includes the movements of wet and dry bulk cargoes, containers and passengers around the coast (say from Lisbon to Rotterdam or from New Orleans to Philadelphia). Typical ship sizes range from 1,000 DWT (tonnes deadweight – i.e. the amount of cargo they carry) to 15,000 DWT with drafts ranging from around 3 to 6 m (10 to 20 ft). Typical cargoes include grain, fertilisers, steel, coal, salt, stone, scrap and minerals (all in bulk), oil products (such as diesel oil, kerosene, aviation spirit – all in bulk), containers and passengers. Short sea shipping should not be mistaken with inland navigation.

In Europe, short sea shipping is at the forefront of the European Union's transportation policy. It currently accounts for roughly 40% of all freight moved in Europe. In the US, short sea shipping has yet to be used to the extent it is in Europe, but there is some development. The main advantages promoted for this type of shipping are alleviation of congestion, decrease of air pollution, and overall cost savings to the shipper and a government. Shipping goods by ship (one 4,000 DWT vessel is equivalent to between 100–200 trucks) is far more efficient and cost-effective than road transport (though the goods, if bound inland, have to be transferred and delivered by truck) and is much less prone to theft and damage.

Roughly 40% of all freight moved in Europe is classified as Short Sea Shipping, but the greater percentage of this cargo moves through Europe’s heartland on rivers and not oceans. In the past decade the term Short Sea Shipping has evolved in a broader sense to include point-to-point cargo movements on inland waterways as well as inland to ocean ports for transhipment over oceans.


In Europe the main hub of short sea shipping is Rotterdam, which is the largest European port, with Antwerp as a second.[citation needed] The Dutch play an important role in this, having developed a hybrid vessel, designed to navigate the sea as well as the Rhine into the Ruhrgebiet. The Dutch and Belgian main waterways (Maas, Waal, Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, Scheldt) locks and bridges are built accordingly. Because of congestion in the larger ports, a number of smaller (container)ports have been developed, and the same goes for the Rhine-ports such as Duisburg and Dortmund in Germany. The ports of Hamburg, Felixstowe (now the largest port in the UK), and Le Havre also are significant in this shipping.

In the Netherlands the sector has seen rapid growth, aided by a tax-enabled investment scheme. The traditional region for building "coasters" is the province of Groningen, where most wharfs have side-laying ship slides. The major trend is to have bare hulls made with cheaper labor in Poland or Romania and to finish them in the Netherlands.


In Philippine law, short sea shipping or coastwise trade is defined as the transport of either merchandise or passengers between two seaports in the Philippines[5] Only vessels with coastwise license secured from and issued by the Maritime Industry Authority can legally engage in coastwise trade in the Philippines. Only vessels with certificate of Philippine registry are eligible for the license. The Philippine coastwise emblem must be hoisted at the main mast of engaged vessels when leaving or entering Philippine seaports.[6]

US and CanadaEdit

Cargo movements on the Great Lakes Waterway and Saint Lawrence Seaway system can be classified as short sea shipping under this broadening of terminology. The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation of Canada, with its U.S. counterpart the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, has for the past several years promoted this concept under its marketing umbrella ‘Hwy H2O’. The concept is intended to use existing capacity on the 3,700-kilometer (2,300 mi) St. Lawrence – Great Lakes corridor in harmony with rail and truck modes to reduce overland congestion.

Great Lakes Feeder Lines of Burlington, Ontario, Canada was the first company to operate a ‘fit for purpose’, European-built Short Sea Shipping vessel, named Dutch Runner, on the Great Lakes Seaway System under Canadian flag. During the winter of 2008–2009, she operated a weekly, fixed service between Halifax and St. Pierre et Miquelon, carrying Ro-Ro (Roll on – Roll off), break bulk, containers, and reefers. Crew on the ship can load and unload it with the two 35-tonne cranes.

Another Canadian firm, Hamilton-based McKeil Marine Inc., operates a fleet of ‘tug and barge’ combinations; these have has been moving commodities such as tar, fuels, aluminum ingots and break bulk cargoes for years on the Great Lakes Seaway System. Along the St. Lawrence River, McKeil Marine transports aluminum ingots from a smelter in Quebec to destinations in Ohio, a distance of 944 nautical miles (1,748 km). One barge carries the equivalent of 220 40-ton trucks.

America's Marine Highway is a program to promote inland and coastal shipping. In 2001 the Port of New York and New Jersey began its Port Inland Distribution Network (PIDN), a project to increase a network of inland points for shipping. Other features include strengthening rail-port connections. It is providing barge service to the Port of Salem in southern New Jersey on the Delaware River. In 2003 it started barge service to the Port of Albany–Rensselaer on the Hudson River in upstate New York, but this was suspended in 2006 after the end of funding for the start-up.[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The Development of Short Sea Shipping in Europe: A Dynamic Alternative in a Sustainable Transport Chain, COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS, Second Two-yearly Progress Report. European Commission, 1999. WORKING DEFINITION OF SHORT SEA SHIPPING: "Short sea shipping’ means the movement of cargo and passengers by sea between ports situated in geographical Europe or between those ports and ports situated in non-European countries having a coastline on the enclosed seas bordering Europe. Short-sea shipping includes domestic and international maritime transport, including feeder services (Feeder services form a short sea network between ports in order for the freight (usually containers) to be consolidated or redistributed to or from a deep-sea service in one of these ports (hub-port)), along the coast and to and from the islands, rivers and lakes. The concept of short sea shipping also extends to maritime transport between the Member States of the Union and Norway and Iceland and other States on the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean."
  3. ^ "Chap.VIII—An act for enrolling and licensing ships and vessels to be employed in the coasting trade and fisheries, and for regulating the same", A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875, Statutes at Large, 2nd Congress, 2nd Session. Library of Congress
  4. ^ Ch.551, Coastwise Trade
  5. ^ Commissioner of Customs vs. Arnaldo Borrse, et. al., G.R. No. L-12867 (Supreme Court of the Philippines 28 November 1958) ("Since the vessels in question do not ply between Philippine ports or are not used to carry passenger or merchandise for hire from one port to another in the Philippines, it is contended that they cannot be considered as engaged in coastwise trade in contemplation of law.").
  6. ^ "Memorandum Circular No. 110" (PDF). Maritime Industry Authority. 29 July 1995. Retrieved 3 May 2016.
  7. ^ Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Chap. 4: "Port Inland Distribution Network of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey" Archived 2013-10-07 at the Wayback Machine, The Geography of Transport Systems, Hofstra University