What is feedering?

Feedering is the term given to the transshipment of merchandise from one ship to another in order to transport the merchandise to a central container terminal. Feedering consists in loading or unloading containers from a large ship (called mother ship) which cannot access a port, thanks to the use of smaller boats called “feeders” or “feeder ships”. The operation takes place at a hub or a major port. Feedering is carried out by feeders destined for port zones where the major ocean liners do not operate. It allows for a greater reach in international trade by optimizing distribution and collection of merchandise at a smaller scale.

The feeder or feeder ship of smaller tonnage ensures delivery where larger ships cannot reach. This is justified in terms of cost but also in terms of configuration of the concerned port zones.  The size of the container ships and large carriers is too great and, very often, their arrival to port is possible only in adapted docking sites and berths. Feedering, therefore has an important place in the maritime logistics sector, and especially in the shipment activities involving containerization.

An important feature to note is that feedering operations take place on routine maritime routes but also along river transport routes which offer reliable alternative and economical shipment solutions.

Feedering in five main axes

To understand the concept of feedering, one can retain five fundamental elements:

  • Feedering operations can serve both maritime and river zones;
  • In general, shipowners are responsible for transshipment, both loading and unloading;
  • The concept facilitates globalization of international trade where shipment of merchandise can reach local levels;
  • Feeder volumes range from 100 to 800 containers;
  • There are five distinct geographical zones to define the different zones of chartering operations: Northern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the Caribbean, the Far East and South Asia and the Middle East. 

Examples and operations in practice

The two types of feedering

Feedering operations can be carried out by dedicated feeders or by independent feeders.

In the first instance, the feeder ships belong to large operators who ship to local sites themselves. They use their own terminals to optimize the flux of transshipping operations. They sometimes provide services for other shipment partners or companies.

In the second case, independent operators are sometimes required to collect merchandise from different terminals. This responds to the shipping needs of diverse clients for the same geographical zone. Independent service providers can also offer direct regional transportation.

The different stages involved in the feedering operation

  • The goods are placed into containers. These are then taken to a hub or a major seaport.
  • After the loading of the container ship or other large tonnage ship, the goods are transported to their arrival point.
  • At destination, the feedering operation begins in order to transfer the containers from the ship to an adapted building used for the local port zone.
  • Then follows a rigorous check of each container according to its end destination. This could be reached by sea, river, rail or road.