Decades ago, cargo was stored in the holds of ships, packed in crates, barrels and loaded mostly by hand using cranes, pulley’s and nets.
Space on board was not ergonomically used and loading and unloading took manpower and time.
Then came the Container… steel boxes of uniform size what had ships specifically designed to carry them.
Containers got bigger, and the ships to carry them got bigger still. Times changed and today container shipping is an international mega-industry.
Rotterdam’s Container Port works around the clock, year round.
The massive cranes are manned, with crane operators up high in cabins on the cranes.
If you look carefully in the last video clip, you will see that the operators cabins can travel the length of the boom, so that they can be both in visual range of the ship at the dock at one end and the container “trucks” at the other.
The ships are not tied up at the dock at all, instead there are several tugs alongside, keeping steady pressure on the side of the ship, and keeping it push up against the dockside the entire time that loading or unloading is taking place.
The reasons for this are twofold: speed and money, ships queue to book a “slot” at the quay, and they pay hundreds of thousands of Euros per hour for their slot. (If I remember correctly I think a figure of Euro 35.000,- per hour was mentioned).
It’s so incredibly expensive that they don’t waste time tying up the ship, they just keep it pushed up against the quay and start unloading or loading immediately.
The “truck” transporters that the crane drivers set to containers onto are driver-less, guided by network of computer electronics and a special grid to follow laid out beneath the tarmac.
The cranes that take and stack the containers are also completely automated and everything is carefully ordered to that the correct containers are stacked not only in the correct place but also in the right order.
There are special sensors in the automated trucks so that if if something goes awry and they hit something, or something hits them, the whole network comes to an emergency stop.
We watch from behind a large fence (I poke the camera lens though the mesh to get the photographs) and the whole “dance of the machines” is quite mesmerizing.
Later see a truck that hauls containers from one area to another area with a multiple trailer “road train” style, as used in Australian haulage, except that here it’s only use for within the Container Port.
Once again the camera can not do the scene justice… the line of containers stretches further into the distance than the lens can focus, as do the gigantic cranes on the quay.