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,_Port_of_Manchester.html" "title="Port_of_Hamburg.html" "title="Affreightment.html" "title="Wharf.html" ;"title="maritime_law.html" ;"title="Trieste,_a_small_local_port.html" ;"title="Trieste.html" ;"title="Barcola near Trieste">Barcola near Trieste, a small local port">Trieste.html" ;"title="Barcola near Trieste">Barcola near Trieste, a small local port A port is a maritime law">maritime facility which may comprise one or more Wharf">wharves where ships may dock to load and discharge passengers and Affreightment">cargo In economics, the word cargo refers in particular to goods or produce being conveyed—generally for Commerce, commercial gain—by water, air or land. "Freight" is the money paid to carry cargo. ''Cargo'' was originally a shipload. Cargo n ...
. Although usually situated on a sea coast or estuary, some ports, such as Port of Hamburg">Hamburg en, Hamburgian(s) , timezone1 = Central European Time, CET , utc_offset1 = +1 , timezone1_DST = Central European Summer Time, CEST , utc_offset1_DST = +2 , postal_co ...
, Port of Manchester">Manchester Manchester () is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. The city has the country’s List of English districts by population, fifth-largest population at 547,627 (as of 2018) and lies within the United Kingdom's Greater ...
and Duluth, are many miles inland, with access to the sea via river or canal. Because of their roles as a port of entry for immigrants many port cities such as London, New York, Shanghai, Los Angeles, Singapore and Vancouver have experienced dramatic multi-ethnic and multicultural changes. Ports are extremely important to the global economy, responsible for 70% of global merchandise trade by value. For this reason, ports are often high-concentrations of the global population—providing the labor for processing and handling the 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 Singapore (), officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign state, sovereign island city-state in maritime Southeast Asia. It lies about one degree of latitude () north of the equator, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, bord ...
and the Chinese ports of
Shanghai Shanghai (, , Standard Chinese, Standard Mandarin pronunciation: ) is one of the four Direct-administered municipalities of China, direct-administered municipalities of the China, People's Republic of China, governed by the State Council o ...
and Ningbo-Zhoushan. As of 2020, the busiest passenger port in the world is the
Port of Helsinki The Port of Helsinki ( fi, Helsingin Satama, sv, Helsingfors Hamn) is the busiest passenger port in the world and the main port for foreign trade in Finland Finland ( fi, Suomi ; sv, Finland , ), officially the Republic of Finland (, ), ...
Finland Finland ( fi, Suomi ; sv, Finland , ), officially the Republic of Finland (, ), is a Nordic country located in Northern Europe. It shares land borders with Sweden to the west, Russia to the east, Norway to the north, and is defined by the G ...
. However, ports can also be very small and only serve local fishing or tourism. Ports are responsible for a number of environmental impacts on local ecologies and water ways, for example direct effects on water quality, caused by dredging, spills and other pollution. Ports are heavily effected by the changing environmental factors caused by
climate change Climate change includes both global warming driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century ...
. Importantly most port infrastructure is extremely vulnerable to
sea level rise Tide gauge measurements show that global sea level rise began around the start of the 20th century. Between 1900 and 2016, the globally averaged sea level rose by . More precise data gathered from satellite radar measurements reveal an acceler ...
, due to its low-lying nature, making it vulnerable to extreme weather and coastal flooding. Internationally, global ports are beginning to identify ways to improve coastal management practices and integrate climate change adaptation practices into their construction.

Historical ports

Whenever 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. Along with the finding of harbor structures, ancient anchors have also been found. Other ancient ports include Port of Guangzhou, Guangzhou during Qin Dynasty China and Canopus, Egypt, 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 Bhāl region of the modern state of Gujarāt. 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 culture, Swahili kingdoms are known to have had trade port islands and trade routes with the Islamic world and Asia. They were described by Greek historians as "metropolises". Famous African trade ports such as Mombasa, Zanzibar, Mogadishu and Kilwa Kisiwani, Kilwa were known to Chinese sailors such as Zheng He and medieval Islamic historians such as the Berber Islamic voyager ibn Battuta, Abu Abdullah ibn Battuta. Nowadays, 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 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 transport, multimodal distribution Food hubs, 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 Navigability, 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 Waterway, Milford Haven are less common, but can handle larger ships with a greater draft, such as Tanker (ship), super tankers, Panamax, Post-Panamax vessels and large container ships. Other businesses such as Food hubs, regional distribution centres, warehouses and freight-forwarders, canning, 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 Crane (machine), gantry cranes, reach stackers and forklift, forklift trucks. Ports usually have specialised functions: some tend to cater mainly for passenger ferry, passenger ferries and cruise ships; some specialise in Intermodal container, 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 Island, 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 (boat), launch (respectively). In modern times, ports survive or decline, depending on current economic trends. In the UK, both the ports of Port of Liverpool, Liverpool and Port of Southampton, 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, 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 Port of Rotterdam, Rotterdam and Port of Amsterdam, Amsterdam are owned partly by the state and partly by the cities themselves. By contrast, in the UK all ports are in private hands, such as The Peel Group, Peel Ports who own the Port of Liverpool, John Lennon Airport and the Manchester Ship Canal. Even though modern ships tend to have bow-thrusters and stern-thrusters, many port authorities still require vessels to use Maritime pilot, pilots and tugboats for manoeuvering large ships in tight quarters. For instance, ships approaching the Belgian port of Antwerp, an inland port on the Scheldt, 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 port facilities that handle ocean-going vessels, and river port is used for river traffic, such as barges and other shallow-draft vessels.


A seaport is a port located on the shore of a sea or ocean. It is further categorized as a "cruise port" or a "cargo port". Additionally, "cruise ports" are also known as a "home port" or a "port of call". The "cargo port" is also further categorized into a "bulk" or "break bulk port" or as a "container port".

Cargo port

Cargo ports, on the other hand, are quite different from cruise ports, because each handles very different cargo, which has to be loaded and unloaded by very different mechanical means. The port may handle one particular type of cargo or it may handle numerous cargoes, such as grains, liquid fuels, liquid chemicals, wood, automobiles, etc. Such ports are known as the "bulk" or "break bulk ports". Those 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, the individual cargo ports are divided into different operating terminals which handle the different cargoes, and are operated by different companies, also known as terminal operators or stevedores.

Cruise home port

A cruise home port is the port where cruise ship passengers board (or Embarkation, embark) to start their cruise and disembarkment, 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 terminal (maritime), 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.

Smart port

A smart port uses technologies, including the Internet of things, Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain to be more efficient at handling goods. 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. 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.

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.

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, Twin Ports, Duluth-Superior, and Chicago. The term "inland port" is also used for dry ports.

Warm-water port

A warm-water port is one where the water does not freeze in wintertime. Because they are available year-round, warm-water ports can be of great geopolitical or economic interest. Such settlements as Dalian in China, Vostochny Port, Murmansk and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in Russia, Odessa in Ukraine, Kushiro, Hokkaidō, Kushiro in Japan and Valdez, Alaska, 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 freight transport, intermodal terminal directly connected by road or Rail transport, rail to a seaport and operating as a centre for the transshipment of sea cargo to inland destinations.

Environmental issues

Ports and their operation are often both the 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.


Every year 100 million cubic metrics 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.

Invasive species

Invasive species are often spread by the bilge water and species attached to the hulls of ships.

Air pollution

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

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.

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.

Climate change and sea level rise

Ports and their infrastructure are very Climate change vulnerability, vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise, because many of them are in low-lying areas designed for status quo water levels. 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.

Reducing impact

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

World's major ports


*The port of Tanger-Med, Tangier Med is the largest port on the Mediterranean and in Africa by capacity and went into service in July 2007. *The busiest port in Africa is Port Said in Egypt.


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


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. In turn, the Spanish Port of Valencia is the busiest port in the Mediterranean basin.

North America

The largest ports include the Port of New York and New Jersey, Port of Los Angeles, Los Angeles and Port of South Louisiana, South Louisiana in the U.S., Manzanillo, Colima, Manzanillo in Mexico and Port Metro Vancouver, Vancouver in Canada. 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 United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 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, Colombia, Cartagena in Colombia, Callao in Peru, Guayaquil in Ecuador, and the Port of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

See also

*Anchorage (shipping) *Megaproject *Marina - port for recreational boating *Port management *Port operator *Ship transport

Other logistics hubs

*Airport *Spaceport *Port of entry


*Lists of ports *List of busiest cruise ports by passengers


External links

Port Industry Statistics, American Association of Port AuthoritiesInformation on yachting facilities at ports around the world from Noonsite.comSocial & Economic Benefits of PORTS
from "NOAA Socioeconomics" website initiative * Antunes, Cátia
''Early Modern Ports, 1500-1750''
European History Online, Mainz: Institute of European History, 2011, retrieved: November 2, 2011. {{Authority control Ports and harbours, Nautical terminology Infrastructure Industrial buildings