What is a Marine Terminal?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 February 2020
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A marine terminal is a facility in a harbor where cargo is handled. Terminals contain equipment for loading and unloading cargo along with facilities for storage of said cargo. Manufacturing and processing facilities are often located near a marine terminal but they are not technically considered part of the terminal. Marine terminals are sometimes referred to as docks.

When ships come into port, they need an area to secure themselves so that they can be loaded and unloaded. Docking facilities at a marine terminal allow a ship to tie up for this purpose. While many ships have equipment on board for cargo handling, for big and specialty cargo, the cranes and lifts at a marine terminal may be useful or necessary. They can also facilitate extremely rapid loading and unloading which allows ships to be processed quickly.

Temporary storage of cargo is also a common need, whether cargo is waiting for a ship to come in or waiting for the next stage of transport after it has been offloaded. Today, many ports have extensive container terminals, marine terminals designed specifically for handling container ships and their loads. These include storage areas for shipping containers, both full and empty. Specialty cargo which cannot fit in containers or is being transported by other needs may also have some unique storage needs such as climate controlled storage, another feature available at many marine terminals.


Staff at a marine terminal help to secure ships to the dock, run the cargo moving equipment, and assist with the storage of cargo. Marine terminal operations can occur day or night and often rely on a fluctuating labor workforce. People who are interested in jobs on a given day show up at the gates to see if any ships which need loading or unloading have arrived. They may need to be certified as dockhands or to union members depending on the port and its policies.

In some regions of the world, it is possible to find offshore terminals. This is most common in oil producing nations, where large oil tankers are too big to get into harbor and they are instead loaded and unloaded offshore. These marine terminals can accommodate several large ships at once and they are continually resupplied to ensure that tankers will always be able to fill up. For people who need to go ashore, boats usually run back and forth between the terminal and the shore and transport can be arranged.


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