Learn more about what ports do and how they operate

What Roles Do Ports Play?
Even if many don’t realise it, ports play a crucial role in our everyday lives. Functioning as the gateway between sea and land, ports help to connect the world by facilitating the movement of products and people straight to our doorsteps.

The Key Role of Ports:

1. Trade: Ports are often the start and end points for most of our everyday products and tools. From products such as electronics, food, and fuel, to transport and the construction materials, ports are the conduit for the good that keep our society functioning. Ports facilitate the movement of around 80% of total global trade by volume, keeping stores stocked, people moving and the economy running. Ports become even more critical for island nations, with over98% of trade going through Australia’s ports.

2. Transportation: Ports offer a key area for the transfer of imports and exports from ships, trucks, and trains to other modes of transportation. The movement of good in and out of the country is a vast and complicated supply chain which flows through our ports.

3. Job Creation: Ports directly and indirectly create jobs in areas such as stevedoring, pilotage, truck drivers, logistics, management, and tech. Ports support the livelihood of individuals and families in their local communities, the nation, and globally

4. Tourism and Recreation: Ports function as the base and connection for cruise and recreational ships. People can disembark at various holiday destinations and explore, as well as often offering waterfront areas with entertainment and attractions. Ports bring tourists to communities around Australia, boosting local economies.

5. Environmental Impact: Ports hold great environmental responsibilities and consistently work to manage and reduce the impact of their operations on their environment. Ports are on the cutting edge of sustainable development by supporting crisis response, investing in and facilitating renewable energy development, and conducting and maintaining extensive environmental surveys.
What Are The Different Types Of Terminals?
There are many different types of ports, each serve a specific role in the global supply chain network.

General Cargo:

Cargo ports are specialised for handling various types of cargo and are categorised into cargo types such as bulk and break-bulk ports, container ports, and sometimes all-in-one ports that manage various cargo types in a single location. These ports have multiple operating terminals and are responsible for the maintenance, loading and unloading, and service of various sizes and types of cargo ships.


Containers are reusable and durable standardised boxes for the shipment, storage, and handling of goods and are designed to be able to move between one mode of transport to the other such as ship to truck. They are designed to be durable, stackable, and interchangeable. They are the most common form of cargo shipment currently with over half of the value of all goods moved globally by sea done though containers shipments.


Bulk goods are those in moved in a large quantity and are typically directly loaded into the ship. Common bulk goods include grains, petroleum, oil products, and iron ore.

Break Bulk:

Break Bulk is cargo stored and shipped in individual units, typically packaged together in trays, crates, drums and boxes and has been the most common form of cargo throughout shipping history, drastically declining as modern containers were introduced.

Roll-on/Roll-off (RORO):

Roll-on and off cargo is wheeled cargo that can be either driven directly on or off ships or using trailers. This differs from most other forms of cargo that are loaded on and off the ship using cranes or conveyor belts. This type of commodity includes vehicles such as motorcycles, cars, and trucks, as well as heavier vehicles such as construction and farming machinery, and even railroad cars.

Cruise Ports:

Cruise ports are specialised for all activities related to cruise ships and allow passengers to board and disembark for excursions. They also supply goods such as fuel, fresh water, alcohol, and food and must be well-organised to accommodate the constant flow of cruise passengers and cargo.
What Are Marine Pilots?
Marine or maritime pilots are professional navigators with expertise in a region’s waterways. Pilots are responsible for navigating vessels through the complexities of the port’s channels. Their role is to ensure the safety of the crew, cargo, ship, and surrounding port, as well as the continual the movement of port traffic. Their knowledge includes that of the local environmental and port geography, marine regulations, weather, tidal conditions. As such they are highly skilled individual who must take into account all these factors in relation to the vessel type and must be able to adapt to changing circumstances.
What is a Stevedore?
Stevedores manage the docks to load and unload, lash (tie down), stow, inspect, and secure the various types of international cargo. Now often using heavy equipment such as port cranes, trailers, stackers, and forklifts, they have been around since the first days of ocean trade, and work as the link between sea and land. (The word ‘originates from the Spanish word estimator, directly translated to ‘a man who loads ships and stows cargo’)
What Are Tugs?
Tugboats or tugs primarily work to tow, push, and guide vessels into and in and out of ports as well as supply essentials or assistance to ships. Working under the guidance of pilots they provide the necessary power to manoeuvre ships in and out of a port.
What Is A TEU?
TEU's or twenty-foot equivalent unit, are a measure of volume taken in units of the standard twenty-foot-long containers, often those seen stacked atop of shipping vessels and within ports. Carrying various cargo, they are shipped throughout the world through container ports, with this standardised measurement simplifying movement of cargo between ships, trucks and trains.

As of 2022 global shipping container traffic reached an equivalent of 866 million TEU's, with estimations showing nearly 990 million by 2027.
How Do Ports Fit Into The Supply Chain?
Ports are one of the most critical parts of the supply chain, often working as a core connection between producers, distributors, retailers, and consumers. Functioning as the supply chain's backbone, the dependence on maritime transport means any changes can have effects upon supply-chains across multiple countries and industries. The viral 2021 Suez Canal blockage saw a containership stuck for six days in the canal travelling towards the Port of Rotterdam, with estimates showing it held up US$9.6 billion in trade every day as the canal alone carries 12 percent of daily global trade.
Why Do Ports Dredge?
Dredging is a necessary process where sediment and other build up is removed from the bottom of bodies of water, such as harbours and rivers, to ensure the safe passage of boats and ships. There are two main types of dredging: maintenance and capital. Ports channels maintain a depth that determines the size of ships that can access the port. 

Maintenance dredging removes the natural build of sediments as it settles into operating channels, basins, and berths to ensure the constant and safe movement of vessels and overall port operations. 

Capital dredging is the removal and relocation of natural new untouched seabed, done to widen and deepen access channels and create new berthing places and docks.