Source: adapted from Boile, M., S. Theofanis, M. Golias and N. Mittal (2006) Empty Marine Container Management: Addressing Locally a Global Problem. TRB Annual Meeting, Washington, DC. Paper # 06-2147.
Among the variety of roles that an empty container depot can fulfill, the most prevalent include:
- A neutral location where empty containers owned by leasing companies and maritime shipping companies can be stored, waiting to be reused or repositioned. It supports an exchange market for container assets between different actors involved in supply chains (e.g. importers and exporters).
- An extension to a maritime (or rail) terminal, often referred to as a satellite terminal (an extended gate), that can have greater flexibility in its access and opening hours. In particular, a maritime terminal may have access constraints due to local congestion at peak terminal hours. Empty containers can be stored at the empty depot and made available for export activities. Containers that need to be repositioned to the maritime terminal can be brought in outside peak hours (when more truck drivers are available). The depot can also act as a buffer to the maritime terminal capacity, notably because the storage of empty containers is a lower added value activity that can be perceived as a suboptimal usage of the maritime terminal’s real estate assets.
- A closer location to logistics activities helps reduce movements, which is particularly beneficial for a metropolitan area where maritime (or rail) terminals are in high density and congested areas. The depot enables better response to the demands of freight distribution activities and can have multiplying effects if located within a logistics cluster. These effects include a more timely availability of empty containers and a better potential for cargo rotation between import and export-based firms within the cluster.