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Short Sea Traffic and Coastwise Trade

written by: Ricky • edited by: Swagatam • updated: 4/30/2011

The term short sea traffic refers is also referred to as Coastwise Trade, Coastal Trade, or Coasting Trade. It stands in contrast to deep sea shipping. Short sea traffic has been a preferred means of transportation in the EU, but it lost its hold over the U.S. in the twentieth century.

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    What is Short Sea Traffic?

    Short sea traffic involves movement of the freight on the same coast without crossing the ocean, whereas in deep sea shipping the freight liner crosses the seas. Coastwise traffic involves movement of freight cargoes around the coast or on inland waterways. Ship sizes involved in this traffic are not large freighters and range from 1000 dwt to 15000 dwt. In the US and EU having ships deliver up-canal or up-river instead of to already burgeoning mega-ports places products closer to the end user - the consumer - and decreases the number of over-the-road truck miles.

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    Short Sea Traffic in Europe and U.S.

    Cargo Ship, Image European nations like U.K., Holland, and Germany have used their inland waterways to their advantage in domestic trade. In the European Union, short sea shipping occupies a position of importance in the transportation policy. 40% to 60% of all the freight is transported using short sea traffic. The countries that make the most use of short sea traffic are the United Kingdom, Italy, and the Netherlands. The most important cargo types being transported on these routes are liquid bulk like liquefied gas, crude oil and, other oil products, followed by dry bulk cargo.

    The U.S. has some short sea traffic, but not to the same extent as Europe. With the continued growth of container trade, one of the major problems that the U.S. ports are already facing is capacity problems. Until the twentieth century, when large scale development of road and railway transport took place, the Mississippi, Ohio, and the Great Lakes were used for transporting freight. Development of land and rail transport led to declines in the quantity of trade handled through waters.

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

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    Advantages of Developing Short Sea Traffic

    Short Sea Traffic (SSS) is not favored just as an option for transporting heavy cargo within a sea or ocean, but has due reasons for it being promoted and being considered as a serious alternative. Some of the advantages of SSS are:

    • Improved mobility of freight in terms of capacity and modal alternatives. It provides alternative and additional means of transportation for freight and passenger traffic. It takes the load off the busy ports.
    • SSS helps check traffic congestion on roads. This alternative means it can be used for alleviating traffic from congested trade corridors.
    • It can easily be considered to be a green measure as SSS services are fuel efficient when compared to vehicular traffic moving on the roads. SSS not only helps save fuel, but also helps keep a check on air and noise pollution levels in the atmosphere.
    • Developing port access routes for SSS is a cost effective measure in comparison to developing new roads and railways, and their maintenance.
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    Promoting Short Sea Traffic

    Despite its strong presence in the EU and all the advantages cited above, SSS needs to be provided with a special impetus to grow and become popular. It is important that along with services, SOPs be offered to shippers and traders to encourage them to opt for SSS. To accelerate coastwise trade reliability, flexibility and efficiency in terms of timely customs handling procedures are factors that go without saying. It is equally important to reconsider harbor maintenance taxes if SSS is to be promoted. Steps that can be taken to promote short sea traffic as an alternative means of transportation are:

    • Identification of new and existing maritime links be performed and developed after a thorough understanding of the social and economic factors involved at regional levels.
    • It is very important that legislation prompting the same as an alternative means of transportation be implemented at inter- and intra-state levels.
    • It is equally important to understand the logistics of the existing and new SSS routes. The logistics need to cover the financial and the technical factors involved in implementing and developing SSS.



    Eurostat -

    Asia Pacific Economic Corporation -

    A Survey of Short Sea Shipping and its Prospectsin the US -