A feeder ship lives up to its name.
The large container ships are fed and vice versa, and containers from large overseas vessels are always loaded onto the smaller feeder ships. We are thus talking about cargo ships that were specially designed for this purpose and can be compared in some cases with coasters or coasters.
In some places, the feeder ship is even referred to as the successor to the coaster or its contemporary variant.
What is a feeder vessel?
A feeder vessel is used in so-called transshipment. The starting point are the large deep-sea vessels, which are not able to call at inland ports or even smaller seaports.
For this reason, there are a few larger ports that act as “hubs” and ensure distribution. The containers or goods are then loaded onto a feeder vessel which takes them to their destination, from where they may be transported by truck. Conversely, goods from the inland also reach the loading ports directly via the rivers and canals and corresponding feeder ships.
A feeder vessel in Europe generally has a capacity of around 100 TEU, which is the unit for standard containers. Converted into tons, this corresponds to about 1,500 tons, although the value may vary. In some places, values between 300 and 1,000 TEU are also given as a guide.
For comparison, it should be noted that the largest container vessels can carry more than 20,000 TEU, so that a cargo can be distributed among up to 20 feeder ships.
A characteristic feature of a feeder vessel is the presence of its own loading gear. This includes loading booms as well as crane hooks, winches and ropes, with which the cargo can be easily brought ashore. The reason for this equipment is that smaller ports often do not have sufficient capacity and therefore these are delivered directly on the feeder ship.
In this way, neither the costly container gantry cranes nor cranes on land are required.
Feeder as container vessel
Among the container vessels, the feeder vessel is found at the lower end of the scale within the classification.
In English, seven categories are distinguished, beginning with the “small feeder” and the “feeder” and including the “feedermax” in the feeder vessel sector. If the vessels become somewhat larger, the Panama Canal represents the reference value. Accordingly, one speaks of Panamax, Post-Panamax, New Panamax and Ultra-Large. Internationally, a feeder is always assumed to be below 3,000 TEU.
Panamax are vessels that fit into the Panama Canal until the expansion in 2016 and can use the two smaller locks. Neopanamax and New Panamax sail through the new lock route and are considerably larger. However, a Panamax vessel is also larger than a feeder vessel and can have a draught of up to 12.04 metres.
In the meantime, however, the Panama Canal is large enough to allow ships with a draught of 15.20 metres to pass through. The capacity of a Panamax vessel is 6,300 TEU.
How important is a feeder vessel?
The feeder vessels are the backbone of maritime logistics and account for a large part of the cargo. We are talking about short-sea vessels, whose share can be up to a third or more, depending on the port.
The number of berths for large container vessels is limited in the ports and some ports also do not offer sufficient draught to allow the “giants of the seas” to drop anchor. So a feeder vessel is needed that can handle the transport without any problems.
Important ports at which a feeder vessel docks time and again are Hamburg and Rotterdam. Hamburg is particularly important for the entire Baltic Sea region and sees itself as a hub towards the Scandinavian, but also Baltic states. Rotterdam, on the other hand, profits from its location on the Rhine, the Meuse and the Scheldt.
In this way, goods can be transported on containers to the whole of Germany and canals even provide a direct connection to the Danube and thus to the Black Sea. A feeder vessel usually works together with deep-sea vessels of one and the same shipping company, so that the capacities of the individual vessels are perfectly coordinated in transshipment.
In practical terms, this means that some shipping companies, alliances or transport companies can map the entire transport route from Asia (or another continent) to a location in inland Europe.
The feeder vessel is also important as direct competition to the truck. Of course, both forms of transport are also combined in practice, but the waterway offers several advantages over the motorway, both in economic and commercial terms. Especially remarkable is the enormous capacity that a feeder vessel offers compared to a truck.
If one considers that a “normal” truck as a 40-tonner allows a payload of 25 tons or is set at two TEU, the difference is enormous. Even a small feeder vessel replaces 50 trucks, with the larger vessels the value increases accordingly. The amount of CO2 emitted per tonne is significantly lower with a feeder ship than with a truck and the costs are also lower.
Where do feeder vessels operate?
If you want to see a feeder vessel in action, you will find them mainly on the inland seas. On the Baltic Sea it is the Baltic Max Feeder with a capacity of up to 1,400 TEU. A classic in this area is the Sietas Type 178, a vessel type that is used very frequently and has a length of around 160 metres with a width of 26.80 metres.
The maximum draught of these vessels is 9.61 metres, which means that not only the large ports can be called at. Another name for the Baltic Max Feeder is Ostseemax, and the ships can be used to transport both simple containers as well as dangerous goods and containers of special dimensions. Six ships of this class are currently underway.
Among the important operating companies for feeder vessels are Unifeeder and Team Lines. Unifeeder is based in Aarhus, Denmark, and is the largest feeder for container shipping in Northern Europe. The company has been in existence since 1977 and works with around 60 feeder vessels, almost all of which are chartered. A special feature is the offer of door-to-door delivery, whereby trucks are also used. In addition to Hamburg, the ports of call include Rotterdam, Felixstowe and Bilbao.