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About the depot business

Container depots are sometimes referred to as terminals, although by unofficial industry definition, terminals—also known as “stevedores”—handle cargo-laden containers in dockside locations. Depots, generally located away from the waterfront, deal primarily with empty containers. Both depots and terminals can be found in or around all major port areas and many rail and highway hubs the world over.

The flow of work at a typical depot begins with the inbound transportation of empty, often damaged, marine freight containers or chassis. Inbound equipment is transported by truck, or “drayed”, by in-house or third party truckers. Inbound equipment may come from the nearby ports or rail yards, or it may be directed to the depot straight from the delivery point at which its cargo was unloaded.

Once “interchanged” into the depot's care and custody, damaged equipment is inspected by the depot. Any damages noted during this inspection are reported to the equipment's owner and/or operator, usually electronically. Then, following prescribed guidelines relating to the age and condition of the equipment, the owner either authorizes its repair or disposes of it by selling it for non-maritime use.

When repairs are authorized, the depot then completes a work order in accordance with industry standards and the requirements of the equipment owner. In the case of scrap units, or units slated by their owners for disposal, the depot often purchases the equipment. Repaired—or “cargoworthy”— containers are stored on the depot's premises until ordered by their owners back into maritime use. Disposal equipment purchased by the depot may be modified or repaired and then resold or leased, generally domestically. While procedural variations abound, the above outline is applicable to the operations of most or all of the estimated 400 container depots worldwide.

Containerized shipping traces its origins to the late 1960s, when shippers and shipping companies alike discovered the efficiency, security, and cost-effectiveness of transporting goods via “intermodal” container. An intermodal container is a sturdy, truck-like, steel or aluminum box with a structural frame that allows it to be transferred, unopened, from one mode of transportation - like a truck, rail car, or vessel - to another. Over time, international (ISO) standards emerged for the engineering, manufacture, operation, and repair of these containers; today the vast majority of non-bulk oceangoing freight is containerized. While industry cycles are inevitable, the overall containerized shipping sector continues to expand at a rate of between five and ten percent annually.

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