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The Port of New York and New Jersey grew from the original harbor at the convergence of the Hudson River and the East River at the Upper New York Bay. Downtown Manhattan From Aeroplane.jpg
The Port of New York and New Jersey grew from the original harbor at the convergence of the Hudson River and the East River at the Upper New York Bay.
The Porticciolo del Cedas port in Barcola near Trieste, a small local Italian port PorticcioloCedas.jpg
The Porticciolo del Cedas port in Barcola near Trieste, a small local Italian port
Port of Durban in Durban, South Africa is Africa's busiest port Durban harbor.jpg
Port of Durban in Durban, South Africa is Africa's busiest port
Seaport, a 17th-century depiction by Claude Lorrain, 1638 Lorrain.seaport.jpg
Seaport, a 17th-century depiction by Claude Lorrain, 1638
Shanghai Port is the world's busiest container port Yangshan-Port-Balanced.jpg
Shanghai Port is the world's busiest container port
Port of Kaohsiung is the largest port in Taiwan. Port of Kaohsiung Skyline 2016.jpg
Port of Kaohsiung is the largest port in Taiwan.
Port of Hamburg Landungsbrucken, Hamburg.JPG
Port of Hamburg
The port of Piraeus Port of Piraeus.jpg
The port of Piraeus
Port of Seattle Line0535.jpg
Port of Seattle
Port of Haifa, Israel Port of Haifa 2752-1.jpg
Port of Haifa, Israel
Port of Barcelona, one of Spain's largest ports Port Vell, Barcelona, Spain - Jan 2007.jpg
Port of Barcelona, one of Spain's largest ports
Port of Montreal, Quebec. Montreal Panorama II.jpg
Port of Montreal, Quebec.
The Port of Duluth-Superior, the largest freshwater port in the world Duluth canal.jpg
The Port of Duluth-Superior, the largest freshwater port in the world
Cargo port in Hilo, Hawaii Dockhawaii.jpg
Cargo port in Hilo, Hawaii
Port of Isla Cristina, in southwestern Spain. Puerto de Isla Cristina.JPG
Port of Isla Cristina, in southwestern Spain.
Port of Palma, Balearic Islands 6. Port de Palma.jpg
Port of Palma, Balearic Islands

A port is a maritime facility comprising one or more wharves or loading areas, where ships load and discharge cargo and passengers. Although usually situated on a sea coast or estuary, ports can also be found far inland, such as Hamburg, Manchester and Duluth; these access the sea via rivers or canals. Because of their roles as ports of entry for immigrants as well as soldiers in wartime, many port cities have experienced dramatic multi-ethnic and multicultural changes throughout their histories. [1]


Ports are extremely important to the global economy; 70% of global merchandise trade by value passes through a port. [2] For this reason, ports are also often densely populated settlements that provide the labor for processing and handling goods and related services for the ports. Today by far the greatest growth in port development is in Asia, the continent with some of the world's largest and busiest ports, such as Singapore and the Chinese ports of Shanghai and Ningbo-Zhoushan. As of 2020, the busiest passenger port in Europe is the Port of Helsinki in Finland. [3] Nevertheless, countless smaller ports do exist that may only serve their local tourism or fishing industries.

Ports can have a wide environmental impact on local ecologies and waterways, most importantly water quality, which can be caused by dredging, spills and other pollution. Ports are heavily affected by changing environmental factors caused by climate change as most port infrastructure is extremely vulnerable to sea level rise and coastal flooding. [2] Internationally, global ports are beginning to identify ways to improve coastal management practices and integrate climate change adaptation practices into their construction. [2]

Historical ports

Wherever ancient civilisations engaged in maritime trade, they tended to develop sea ports. One of the world's oldest known artificial harbors is at Wadi al-Jarf on the Red Sea. [4] Along with the finding of harbor structures, ancient anchors have also been found.

Other ancient ports include Guangzhou during Qin Dynasty China and Canopus, the principal Egyptian port for Greek trade before the foundation of Alexandria. In ancient Greece, Athens' port of Piraeus was the base for the Athenian fleet which played a crucial role in the Battle of Salamis against the Persians in 480 BCE. In ancient India from 3700 BCE, Lothal was a prominent city of the Indus valley civilisation, located in the Bhal region of the modern state of Gujarāt. [5] Ostia Antica was the port of ancient Rome with Portus established by Claudius and enlarged by Trajan to supplement the nearby port of Ostia. In Japan, during the Edo period, the island of Dejima was the only port open for trade with Europe and received only a single Dutch ship per year, whereas Osaka was the largest domestic port and the main trade hub for rice.

Post-classical Swahili kingdoms are known to have had trade port islands and trade routes [6] with the Islamic world and Asia. They were described by Greek historians as "metropolises". [7] Famous African trade ports such as Mombasa, Zanzibar, Mogadishu and Kilwa [8] were known to Chinese sailors such as Zheng He and medieval Islamic historians such as the Berber Islamic voyager Abu Abdullah ibn Battuta. [9]

Many of these ancient sites no longer exist or function as modern ports. Even in more recent times, ports sometimes fall out of use. Rye, East Sussex, was an important English port in the Middle Ages, but the coastline changed and it is now 2 miles (3.2 km) from the sea, while the ports of Ravenspurn and Dunwich have been lost to coastal erosion.

Modern ports

Whereas early ports tended to be just simple harbours, modern ports tend to be multimodal distribution hubs, with transport links using sea, river, canal, road, rail and air routes. Successful ports are located to optimize access to an active hinterland, such as the London Gateway. Ideally, a port will grant easy navigation to ships, and will give shelter from wind and waves. Ports are often on estuaries, where the water may be shallow and may need regular dredging. Deep water ports such as Milford Haven are less common, but can handle larger ships with a greater draft, such as super tankers, Post-Panamax vessels and large container ships. Other businesses such as regional distribution centres, warehouses and freight-forwarders, canneries and other processing facilities find it advantageous to be located within a port or nearby. Modern ports will have specialised cargo-handling equipment, such as gantry cranes, reach stackers and forklift trucks.

Ports usually have specialised functions: some tend to cater mainly for passenger ferries and cruise ships; some specialise in container traffic or general cargo; and some ports play an important military role for their nation's navy. Some third world countries and small islands such as Ascension and St Helena still have limited port facilities, so that ships must anchor off while their cargo and passengers are taken ashore by barge or launch (respectively).

In modern times, ports survive or decline, depending on current economic trends. In the UK, both the ports of Liverpool and Southampton were once significant in the transatlantic passenger liner business. Once airliner traffic decimated that trade, both ports diversified to container cargo and cruise ships. Up until the 1950s the Port of London was a major international port on the River Thames, but changes in shipping and the use of containers and larger ships have led to its decline. Thamesport, [10] a small semi-automated container port (with links to the Port of Felixstowe, the UK's largest container port) thrived for some years, but has been hit hard by competition from the emergent London Gateway port and logistics hub.

In mainland Europe, it is normal for ports to be publicly owned, so that, for instance, the ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam are owned partly by the state and partly by the cities themselves. [11]

Even though modern ships tend to have bow-thrusters and stern-thrusters,[ citation needed ] many port authorities still require vessels to use pilots and tugboats for manoeuvering large ships in tight quarters. For instance, ships approaching the Belgian port of Antwerp, an inland port on the River Scheldt, are obliged to use Dutch pilots when navigating on that part of the estuary that belongs to the Netherlands.

Ports with international traffic have customs facilities.


The terms "port" and "seaport" are used for different types of facilities handling ocean-going vessels, and river port is used for river traffic, such as barges and other shallow-draft vessels.

Inland port

An inland port is a port on a navigable lake, river (fluvial port), or canal with access to a sea or ocean, which therefore allows a ship to sail from the ocean inland to the port to load or unload its cargo. An example of this is the St. Lawrence Seaway which allows ships to travel from the Atlantic Ocean several thousand kilometers inland to Great Lakes ports like Toronto, Duluth-Superior, and Chicago. [12] The term "inland port" is also used for dry ports.


A seaport is a port located on the shore of a sea or ocean. It is further categorized as commercial and non-commercial: [13]

Cargo port

Cargo ports are quite different from cruise ports, because each handles very different cargo, which has to be loaded and unloaded by a variety of mechanical means.

Bulk cargo ports may handle one particular type of cargo or numerous cargoes, such as grains, liquid fuels, liquid chemicals, wood, automobiles, etc. Such ports are known as the "bulk" or "break bulk ports".

Ports that handle containerized cargo are known as container ports.

Most cargo ports handle all sorts of cargo, but some ports are very specific as to what cargo they handle. Additionally, individual cargo ports may be divided into different operating terminals which handle the different types of cargoes, and may be operated by different companies, also known as terminal operators, or stevedores. [14]

Cruise port

A cruise home port is the port where cruise ship passengers board (or embark) to start their cruise and disembark the cruise ship at the end of their cruise. It is also where the cruise ship's supplies are loaded for the cruise, which includes everything from fresh water and fuel to fruits, vegetables, champagne, and any other supplies needed for the cruise. "Cruise home ports" are very busy places during the day the cruise ship is in port, because off-going passengers debark their baggage and on-coming passengers board the ship in addition to all the supplies being loaded. Cruise home ports tend to have large passenger terminals to handle the large number of passengers passing through the port. The busiest cruise home port in the world is the Port of Miami, Florida.

Port of call

A port of call is an intermediate stop for a ship on its sailing itinerary. At these ports, cargo ships may take on supplies or fuel, as well as unloading and loading cargo while cruise liners have passengers get on or off ship.

Fishing port

A fishing port is a port or harbor for landing and distributing fish. It may be a recreational facility, but it is usually commercial. A fishing port is the only port that depends on an ocean product, and depletion of fish may cause a fishing port to be uneconomical.


A marina is a port for recreational boating.

Warm-water port

A warm-water port (also known as an ice-free port) is one where the water does not freeze in winter. This is mainly used in the context of countries with mostly cold winters where parts of the coastline freezes over every winter. Because they are available year-round, warm-water ports can be of great geopolitical or economic interest. Such settlements as Narvik in Norway, Dalian in China, Murmansk, Novorossiysk, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and Vostochny Port [15] in Russia, Odesa in Ukraine, Kushiro in Japan and Valdez at the terminus of the Alaska Pipeline owe their very existence to being ice-free ports. The Baltic Sea and similar areas have ports available year-round beginning in the 20th century thanks to icebreakers, but earlier access problems prompted Russia to expand its territory to the Black Sea.

Dry port

A dry port is an inland intermodal terminal directly connected by road or rail to a seaport and operating as a centre for the transshipment of sea cargo to inland destinations. [16]

Smart port

A smart port uses technologies, including the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) to be more efficient at handling goods. [17] Smart ports usually deploy cloud-based software as part of the process of greater automation to help generate the operating flow that helps the port work smoothly. [18] At present, most of the world's ports have somewhat embedded technology, if not for full leadership. However, thanks to global government initiatives and exponential growth in maritime trade, the amount of intelligent ports has gradually increased. This latest report by business intelligence provider Visiongain assesses that Smart Ports Market spending will reach $1.5 bn in 2019. [19]

Environmental issues

Ports and their operation are often a cause of environmental issues, such as sediment contamination and spills from ships and are susceptible to larger environmental issues, such as human caused climate change and its effects. [20]


Every year 100 million cubic metres of marine sediment are dredged to improve waterways around ports. Dredging, in its practice, disturbs local ecosystems, brings sediments into the water column, and can stir up pollutants captured in the sediments. [20]

Invasive species

Invasive species are often spread by the bilge water and species attached to the hulls of ships. [20] It is estimated that there are over 7000 invasive species transported in bilge water around the world on a daily basis [21] Invasive species can have direct or in-direct interactions with native sea life. Direct interaction such as predation, is when a native species with no natural predator is all of a sudden prey of an invasive specie. In-direct interaction can be diseases or other health conditions brought by invasive species. [22]

A ship pumping bilge water into a harbor Wawona - pumping bilge water.jpg
A ship pumping bilge water into a harbor

Air pollution

Ports are also a source of increased air pollution as a result of ships and land transportation at the port. Transportation corridors around ports have higher exhaust emissions and this can have related health effects on local communities. [20]

Water quality

Water quality around ports is often lower because of both direct and indirect pollution from the shipping, and other challenges caused by the port's community, such as trash washing into the ocean. [20]

Spills, pollution and contamination

Sewage from ships, and leaks of oil and chemicals from shipping vessels can contaminate local water, and cause other effects like nutrient pollution in the water. [20]

Climate change and sea level rise

Ports and their infrastructure are very vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise, because many of them are in low-lying areas designed for status quo water levels. [2] Variable weather, coastal erosion, and sea level rise all put pressure on existing infrastructure, resulting in subsidence, coastal flooding and other direct pressures on the port. [2]

Reducing impact

There are several initiatives to decrease negative environmental impacts of ports. [23] [24] [25] The World Port Sustainability Program points to all of the Sustainable Development Goals as potential ways of addressing port sustainability. [26] These include SIMPYC, the World Ports Climate Initiative, the African Green Port Initiative, EcoPorts and Green Marine. [25] [27]

World's major ports



The port of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, India VizagPort.jpg
The port of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, India

The port of Shanghai is the largest port in the world in both cargo tonnage and activity. It regained its position as the world's busiest port by cargo tonnage and the world's busiest container port in 2009 and 2010, respectively. It is followed by the ports of Singapore, Hong Kong and Kaohsiung, Taiwan, all of which are in East and Southeast Asia.

The port of Singapore is the world's second-busiest port in terms of total shipping tonnage, it also transships a third of the world's shipping containers, half of the world's annual supply of crude oil, and is the world's busiest transshipment port.


Port of Hamina-Kotka, a port of the two neighboring cities: Hamina and Kotka. Port of Hamina.jpg
Port of Hamina-Kotka, a port of the two neighboring cities: Hamina and Kotka.

Europe's busiest container port and biggest port by cargo tonnage by far is the Port of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. It is followed by the Belgian Port of Antwerp or the German Port of Hamburg, depending on which metric is used. [28] In turn, the Spanish Port of Valencia is the busiest port in the Mediterranean basin, while the Portuguese Port of Sines is the busiest atlantic port.

North America

The largest ports include the South Louisiana, Houston, Port of New York/New Jersey, Los Angeles in the U.S., Manzanillo in Mexico and Vancouver in Canada.[ citation needed ] Panama also has the Panama Canal that connects the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, and is a key conduit for international trade.


The largest port in Australia is the Port of Melbourne.

South America

According to ECLAC's "Maritime and Logistics Profile of Latin America and the Caribbean", the largest ports in South America are the Port of Santos in Brazil, Cartagena in Colombia, Callao in Peru, Guayaquil in Ecuador, and the Port of Buenos Aires in Argentina. [29]

See also

Other logistics hubs


Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maritime transport</span> Transport of people or goods via waterways

Maritime transport or more generally waterborne transport, is the transport of people (passengers) or goods (cargo) via waterways. Freight transport by sea has been widely used throughout recorded history. The advent of aviation has diminished the importance of sea travel for passengers, though it is still popular for short trips and pleasure cruises. Transport by water is cheaper than transport by air or ground, but significantly slower for longer distances. Maritime transport accounts for roughly 80% of international trade, according to UNCTAD in 2020.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cargo ship</span> Ship or vessel that carries goods and materials

A cargo ship or freighter is a merchant ship that carries cargo, goods, and materials from one port to another. Thousands of cargo carriers ply the world's seas and oceans each year, handling the bulk of international trade. Cargo ships are usually specially designed for the task, often being equipped with cranes and other mechanisms to load and unload, and come in all sizes. Today, they are almost always built of welded steel, and with some exceptions generally have a life expectancy of 25 to 30 years before being scrapped.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Merchant ship</span> Civilian boat or ship that transports cargo or carries passengers for hire

A merchant ship, merchant vessel, trading vessel, or merchantman is a watercraft that transports cargo or carries passengers for hire. This is in contrast to pleasure craft, which are used for personal recreation, and naval ships, which are used for military purposes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Port Everglades</span> Seaport in Broward County, Florida

Port Everglades is a seaport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, located in Broward County. Port Everglades is one of South Florida's foremost economic engines, as it is the gateway for both international trade and cruise vacations. In 2022, Port Everglades was ranked the third-busiest cruise homeport, accommodating more than 1.72 million passengers. Port Everglades' cargo sector has been climbed up the rankings based on its operational performance among 348 seaports in the world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Port of Singapore</span> Port in Singapore

The Port of Singapore refers to the collective facilities and terminals that conduct maritime trade, and which handle Singapore's harbours and shipping. It has been ranked as the top maritime capital of the world, since 2015. Currently the world's second-busiest port in terms of total shipping tonnage, it also transships a fifth of the world's shipping containers, half of the world's annual supply of crude oil, and is the world's busiest transshipment port. It had also been the busiest port in terms of total cargo tonnage handled until 2010, when it was surpassed by the Port of Shanghai.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Port of Hong Kong</span> Port in Hong Kong

The Port of Hong Kong, located by the South China Sea, is a deepwater seaport dominated by trade in containerised manufactured products, and to a lesser extent raw materials and passengers. A key factor in the economic development of Hong Kong, the natural shelter and deep waters of Victoria Harbour provide ideal conditions for berthing and the handling of all types of vessels. It is one of the busiest ports in the world, in the three categories of shipping movements, cargo handled and passengers carried. This makes Hong Kong a Large-Port Metropolis.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Short-sea shipping</span> Movement of cargo and passengers by sea along a coast, without crossing an ocean

The modern terms short-sea shipping, marine highway, and motorways of the sea, and the more historical terms coastal trade, coastal shipping, coasting trade, and coastwise trade, all encompass the movement of cargo and passengers mainly by sea along a coast, without crossing an ocean.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Port of Savannah</span> Port in United States of America

The Port of Savannah is a major U.S. seaport located at Savannah, Georgia. As of 2021, the port was the third busiest seaport in the United States. Its facilities for oceangoing vessels line both sides of the Savannah River and are approximately 18 miles (29 km) from the Atlantic Ocean. Operated by the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), the Port of Savannah competes primarily with the Port of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina to the northeast, and the Port of Jacksonville in Jacksonville, Florida to the south. The GPA operates one other Atlantic seaport in Georgia, the Port of Brunswick. The state also manages three interior ports linked to the Gulf of Mexico: Port Bainbridge, Port Columbus, and a facility at Cordele, Georgia linked by rail to the Port of Savannah. In the 1950s, the Port of Savannah was the only facility to see an increase in trade while the country experienced a decline in trade of 5%. It was chaired and led by engineer Dr. Blake Van Leer.

Port management involves the management of ports.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Port of New York and New Jersey</span> Port in New York and New Jersey, United States

The Port of Montreal is a cruise and transshipment point located on the St. Lawrence River in Montreal, Québec, Canada. The port operates as an international container port where it services Toronto and the rest of Central Canada, the Midwestern United States, and the Northeastern United States. Though found on the Saint Lawrence Seaway and some 1,600 miles (2,600 km) inland from the Atlantic Ocean, it is the shortest direct route between Europe and the Mediterranean, with the North American Midwest.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shipping line</span> Business that transports cargo aboard ships

A shipping line or shipping company is a company whose line of business is ownership and operation of ships.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Port of Bridgetown</span> Port in Barbados

The Port of Bridgetown, is a seaport in Bridgetown on the southwest coast of Barbados. Situated at the North-Western end of Carlisle Bay, the harbour handles all of the country's international bulk ship-based trade and commerce. In addition to international-shipping the Deep Water Harbour is the port of entry for southern-Caribbean cruise ships. The port is one of three designated ports of entry in Barbados, along with the privately owned Port Saint Charles marina and the Sir Grantley Adams International Airport. The port's time zone is GMT −4, and it handles roughly 700,000 cruise passengers and 900,000 tonnes of containerised cargo per year.

The Port of Limassol is the largest port in Cyprus, located in the city of Limassol.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Port of Jacksonville</span> Port in United States

The Port of Jacksonville (Jaxport) is an international trade seaport on the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida. The 14th largest container port in the United States, it carries about 18 million short tons of cargo each year and has an annual economic impact of over $31 billion, including 138,500 jobs across the state of Florida related to cargo moving through the port. It handled 1,338,000 containers, and is the second largest handler of vehicles in the United States with 696,500 in 2019.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shipping industry of China</span>

In 1961 China established a state-run maritime shipping company and subsequently signed shipping agreements with many countries, laying the foundation for developing the country's ocean transport. That organization developed into the present-day China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company (COSCO). The Chinese government also invested heavily in water transport infrastructure, constructing new ports and rebuilding and enlarging older facilities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lists of ports</span>

Lists of ports cover ports of various types, maritime facilities with one or more wharves where ships may dock to load and discharge passengers and cargo. Most are on the sea coast or an estuary, but some are many miles inland, with access to the sea via river or canal. The lists are organized by shipping volume, by ocean or sea, by nation or sub-region, and by other characteristics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Port of Tokyo</span> Port in Japan

The Port of Tokyo is one of the largest Japanese seaports and one of the largest seaports in the Pacific Ocean basin having an annual traffic capacity of around 100 million tonnes of cargo and 4,500,000 twenty-foot equivalent units.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Environmental effects of shipping</span> Ocean pollution

The environmental effects of shipping include air pollution, water pollution, acoustic, and oil pollution. Ships are responsible for more than 18% of nitrogen oxides pollution, and 3% of greenhouse gas emissions.


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