The Role of Intermodal Transport in International Logistics

Subject: Transportation
Pages: 7
Words: 1690
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: College


The world economy has expanded exponentially in the last few decades because sea transport has led to the remarkable growth of the international business. Sea transport is vital in intercontinental trade because it facilitates the movement of large volumes of goods and services. According to economists, the significance of maritime transport will increase in the nearest future due to the tremendous growth of global commerce (Slack, Claude, & McCalla, 2002, p. 67).

Moreover, sea transport will be essential in the future international economy because it is the most economical and environmentally friendly method of bulk transportation of goods and services. Ports and sea transport facilitate the development of the global economy and distribution of prosperity in various parts of the world.

In this regard, ports and sea transport fulfill both social and economic functions. At present, ports and sea transport are experiencing myriad challenges, which hinder their effectiveness. This essay discusses measures that can be adapted to surmount challenges that affect sea transport and ports.

Ports and Sea Transport Challenges

The following challenges affect the efficiency of ports and sea transport in both developed and third world countries.

Growth of Global Trade

The tremendous growth of international trade has led to a significant increase in the volume of cargo. Presently, ports are overwhelmed with containers because of the increase in sea transport. The Los Angeles Port, for instance, has been overcrowded with containers due to increasing trade between the USA and Asia.

In other words, many ports have not expanded their services to meet the growing demand for port services. For instance, inadequate storage facilities in many ports affect the rate at which goods are loaded and offloaded from ships (U.S. Maritime Administration, 2009, p. 2). Thus, port inefficiencies hold back maritime transportation services because goods are cleared from ships slowly.

Poor Infrastructure

Many ports find it difficult to handle large volumes of goods because they have not expanded their cargo handling facilities. For instance, many ports do not have modern berths. Thus, they cannot accommodate huge ships. In addition, an inadequate number of berths in ports leads to congestion, since they cannot accommodate several ships. Most of the roads and railway networks that link seaports have not been expanded.

This leads to traffic snarl-ups, which affect the movement of goods from seaports to various destinations. Poor transport infrastructure also leads to the high cost of transporting cargo. Apart from transport constraints, many ports are unable to coordinate their operations effectively because they have not modernised their communication systems.

Energy Shortages

Many ports often experience energy shortages because they over-rely on electricity and fossil fuels. Moreover, fossil fuels contaminate the environment and can cause serious fire accidents, which can disrupt port operations. High oil and electricity prices make port services expensive (Grzelakowski, 2009, p. 197).

Labour Challenges

Labour inefficiencies in ports are caused by poor working conditions. For instance, dockworkers are often underpaid. In addition, restrictive occupational practices and insufficient training lead to the poor performance of dockworkers.

Poor safety measures

Safety is significant in seaports because they handle various types of goods. Unfortunately, many ports do not adhere to safety measures due to the lack of proper regulations. For instance, the recent fire accident that halted the activities of the Los Angeles Port was due to inadequate safety measures (Burnson, 2014, pp. 1-2). Although global terrorism and maritime piracy have increased tremendously in the past few years, many ports have not improved their security systems. Thus, they are vulnerable to terrorism and vandalism.

Lack of Universal Port Regulations

Due to the fact that governments own most of the ports and regulate their activities, there are no universally accepted port regulations. However, some ports operate independently without strict government regulations (International Maritime Organisation, 2003, pp. 14-15). At the international level, ports are linked together because they connect various countries.

However, the lack of standard port regulations often causes conflicts between various stakeholders in the shipping industry and world trade (Slack, Claude, & McCalla, 2002, p. 170).

Inadequate Research on Capacity Demands

Many ports do not carry out regular research on world trade and sea transport. Thus, they cannot predict future demand for port services. Furthermore, the majority of ports lack proper records of the amount of cargo they handle annually. Consequently, they find it difficult to expand their services. Moreover, research on sustainable port services has not been carried out extensively. Thus, many ports do not have proper strategies to improve their services.

Inadequate Resources

Ports are facing financial constraints due to the high costs of operation. Financial constraints lead to port inefficiencies in several ways. First, inadequate financial resources hinder modernisation of ports. For example, several ports are unable to use the latest technology due to financial constraints.

Second, the expansion of port services requires many resources, which many ports cannot access due to financial shortages. Third, overstretched port facilities require regular maintenance, which leads to high expenses (U.S. Maritime Administration, 2009, p. 23). Furthermore, financial challenges have compelled port managers to reduce dockworkers (Notteboom, 2011, pp. 89-91).

Improving Port Efficiency

Improving port efficiency is a painstaking exercise that requires development and implementation of effective short-term and long-term measures. This process requires a dedicated workforce and adequate financial resources. The following short-term measures can be implemented to improve the efficiency of ports (Monios, 2014, p. 123).

Ports can overcome the challenge of inadequate capacity to handle cargo as follows. First, “ports should maximise the use of the available space to avoid unnecessary overcrowding” (U.S. Maritime Administration, 2009, pp. 19-23). For instance, proper stacking of freight containers can minimise wastage of the limited space at the Los Angeles Port. Container-stacking density should be facilitated with efficient loading machines. Ports should also upgrade their facilities to make them more efficient.

For instance, regular maintenance of berths and other facilities improve the efficiency of ports. Upgrading of port services involves the use of the most recent technology in carrying out port operations. In addition, ports should clear and forward goods quickly to avoid unnecessary storage requirements. Moreover, port operations should be carried out continuously to facilitate the clearance of goods (Monios, 2014, p. 134).

Long-term measures to improve port efficiency include the following measures. Expansion of port facilities is a sustainable measure that can be used to overcome the challenge of high demand for port services. Expansion of port services should include the construction of additional berths to facilitate docking of many ships (Burnson, 2014, pp. 1-2). Ports should be upgraded to accommodate huge ships. Port storage facilities should be expanded to meet the rising demand for storage services.

Port expansion should include the expansion of transport and communication systems (International Maritime Organisation, 2003, p. 23). Therefore, an integrated approach should be adopted in the expansion of port services. An integrated port expansion model involves the expansion of all facilities and services related to port operations. International regulations should be adhered to during port expansion activities (International Maritime Organisation, 2003, pp. 11-15).

Adoption of contemporary technological services can improve the efficiency of sea transport and ports tremendously. In this regard, all stakeholders in the maritime transport and international trade should adopt modern communication systems. For instance, online clearance of goods is efficient because it reduces time wastage (Monios, 2014, pp. 56-57).

Shipping companies can also coordinate their activities more effectively through the adoption of superior internet services. For instance, cargo ships can be cleared online before they arrive at the Port of Los Angeles (Notteboom, 2011, p. 140).

Labour challenges can be overcome through the recruitment of qualified staff, implementation of proper labour policies and proper remuneration of dockworkers. Ports and shipping companies should outsource labour services instead of hiring permanent staff. Outsourcing of labour will enable ports to reduce remuneration expenses. It will also improve the productivity of dockworkers.

For instance, ports and shipping companies can hire more workers when there is a high demand for their services. On the other hand, they can downsize their employees during low business seasons. Ports should utilise modern technological services instead of recruiting additional workforce. For example, ports can reduce their workforce by using internet services.

Financial constraints that affect the operations of many ports can be solved through several measures. First, proper utilisation of the available resources and facilities can reduce the loss of revenue (Alderton, 2010, pp. 156-157). Second, ports should adopt proper financial planning techniques to avoid unnecessary expenditure. Third, ports and shipping companies should curb corruption and fraudulent activities, which lead to financial losses. Ports can get additional funds through a partnership with the private sector.

The efficiency of port operations and sea transport can be improved through the adoption of sustainable energy. For instance, ports should use alternative sources of energy instead of depending on fossil fuels and electricity. On the other hand, big ships should use nuclear energy because they consume a lot of power.

Last, ports should operate under international regulations. For instance, governments of both developed and developing countries can enhance their cooperation through the formulation and implementation of common sea transport regulations. Proper regulation of port services will enhance the growth of international trade and the world economy.


This essay has discussed the main challenges that hinder the efficiency of sea transport and ports. These challenges include the limited capacity of ports to handle the growing volume of goods, financial constraints and labour challenges. In addition, many ports lack proper communication and transportation services.

These challenges can be overcome through the upgrading of port facilities and proper utilisation of existing resources. However, the expansion of port facilities and the adoption of the most recent technology will lead to high levels of efficiency in ports and sea transport.

There is an intricate relationship between ports, sea transport and international commerce. Ports contribute significantly to the efficiency of sea transport and international trade. For instance, the ineffectiveness of ports slows down sea transport and hinders the development of international trade. On the other hand, global commerce can increase tremendously if ports and sea transport were functioning efficiently. For this reason, drastic measures should be implemented to overcome the challenges that affect ports and sea transport.


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Monios, J. (2014). Institutional Challenges to Intermodal Transport and Logistics: Governance in Port Regionalisation and Hinterland Integration. New York: Ashgate Publishing.

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