This list of terms, often used in the ports and shipping industry, gives some useful definitions to help understand international maritime trade, a feature of our daily lives from clothing to coffee. Select a letter below to see what terms are listed under it.


Air draught

The height of the highest point of a vessel’s structure above the waterline.


A designated area in Port Phillip Bay where vessels may anchor.


That portion of a wharf or pier lying between the waterfront edge and the transit shed, also called Apron Wharf or Wharf Apron.

Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS)

The Australian Government agency responsible for enforcing Australian quarantine laws. It manages quarantine controls at our borders to minimise the risk of exotic pests and diseases entering the country.

Automatic Identification System (AIS)

An automatic tracking system used on vessels and by Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) for identifying, locating and tracking vessels.


Ballast water

Seawater loaded in ballast tanks placed at the bottom or on the sides of the vessel, to improve stability and to increase the immersion at the propeller.


The width of a vessel.


The waterfront edge of a wharf in which a vessel is secured to load or discharge cargo.


The foremost part of a vessel.

Bill of lading

A document that establishes the terms of a contract between a shipper of goods and a transportation company. It can serve as a document of title, a contract of carriage and a receipt for goods.

Breakbulk cargo (general cargo)

Loose, non-containerised cargo that must be loaded individually into a vessel’s hold and not in containers or in bulk.

Breakbulk vessel (general cargo vessel)

A general, multi-purpose cargo vessel that carries cargoes of non-uniform sizes, often on pallets.

Bulk cargo

Loose, mostly uniform, non-containerised cargo poured into the holds of a vessel in large quantities as either a liquid or a solid. Dry bulk cargoes include coal, grain and iron ore. Liquid bulk cargoes include liquid chemicals, petroleum products and crude oil.

Bulk carrier

A vessel intended primarily for the bulk carriage of various types of loose, mostly uniform, non-containerised cargo, that do not need to be in a packaged form.


Capital dredging

The removal of sediment, carried out to create a new harbour, berth or waterway, or to deepen existing facilities to allow access for deeper draught vessels.

Channel or fairway

The part of the body of water within the port waters of Melbourne of sufficient depth to be used by commercial vessels for navigation that is either marked with navigation aids or as marked on the appropriate nautical chart. In the case of Port Phillip Bay, channels are typically maintained through dredging whereas the fairway is naturally deep.


The person named on the bill of lading as the one from whom the goods have been received for shipment.


A steel box of a given measurement, usually twenty feet or forty feet long, used for carrying goods, often referred to as a TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit). This can include a standard container, a refrigerated container called a ‘reefer’, a collapsible container called a ‘flatrack’, a ventilated container called a ‘vent’ or an open top container type.

Container vessel

A vessel designed to handle containerised cargo. A fully cellular container vessel is one that carries no cranes and is reliant on shore-based cranes for loading and discharging. Container vessels’ hulls are divided into cells accessible through large hatches into which the containers fit.

Coode Island

A bulk liquid handling facility in the Port of Melbourne.


Deadweight tonnage (DWT)

A measure of vessel carrying capacity equalling the number of tonnes of cargo, stores and bunkers that the vessel can transport. It is equal to the difference in the number of tonnes of water a vessel displaces when ‘light’ and the number of tonnes when ‘loaded’.


The depth of a vessel while in the water measured as the vertical distance between the waterline and the lowest edge of the bottom of the vessel.

Dry bulk

Loose, mostly uniform, non-containerised solid cargo poured into the holds of a vessel in large quantities. Dry bulk cargoes include coal, grain and iron ore.

Department of Treasury and Finance (DTF)

A Victorian Government department supporting the delivery of policies in economic, financial and resource management.


Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA)

An authority and regulator that ensures the protection of beneficial uses of the environment from the adverse impacts of wastes and unwanted noise.

Essential Services Commission (ESC)

Victoria’s independent economic regulator of essential services supplied by the electricity, gas, water and sewage, ports, grain handling and rail freight industries.


Fawkner Beacon

A navigational aid marking the southern entrance of the Port Melbourne Channel.

Flatrack (flatbed)

Containers that are designed to transport cargo larger than the dimensions available in General Purpose and Open Top Containers. They consist of a flat bed with fixed or collapsible ends.

Forty-foot equivalent unit (FEU)

A container size standard of forty feet. One forty-foot container (FEU) equals two twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU). Container vessel capacity and port throughput capacity are frequently referred to in TEUs not FEUs.


The distance between the statutory deck line and the waterline.

Freight forwarder

A person or persons who represent the cargo owner or shipper and who arranges shipments for that owner.



The top edge of a vessel’s sides that forms a ledge round the whole vessel above the deck.


A very soft mineral composed of calcium sulphate with application in floor and wall boards, surface filler and plaster.


Harbour Master

A person usually having the experience of a certificated master mariner and having a good knowledge of the characteristics of the port and its whole area. The Harbour Master administers shipping movements that take place in the Port of Melbourne.

Heritage Victoria

The Victorian Government’s principal cultural heritage agency which identifies and protects the state’s most significant cultural heritage resource and advises private owners, local and state government, industry and general community on heritage matters.

Hovell Pile

A navigational light at the South Eastern Entrance of South Channel.


The body of a vessel, typically referring to its substructure.


Intermodal hub

Strategically located areas, close to the port in outer metropolitan areas, where cargo is exchanged across several modes of transport. There are generally three kinds of intermodal freight hubs: sea-road, sea-rail, road-rail. However, there can also be sea-road-rail intermodal hub sites.





The people responsible for the handling of vessels’ mooring lines.

Liquid bulk

Liquid commodities that are carried in specialty built vessels, such as tankers. Examples include liquid chemicals, petroleum products and crude oil.

Load line

The line on a vessel indicating the maximum depth to which that vessel can submerge when loaded with cargo. They can also be referred to as ‘marks’.


Maintenance dredging

A routine part of port operations. It involves the removal of sediment build up due to natural wave, tidal and storm events to maintain the declared depths of the water column rather than providing additional depth. It is essential to maintain the channels and berths at their declared depth to enable vessels to manoeuvre and access the port with sufficient draught clearance.


The declarations made by an international ocean carrier relating to the vessel’s crew and contents at both the port of departure and arrival. It lists all the Bills of Lading for a specific voyage.

Maritime Security Identification Card (MSIC)

A nationally consistent identification card issued to a person who has an occupation or business interest which requires unmonitored access to a maritime security zone. An MSIC card shows that the holder has undergone a background check and meets the minimum security requirements and needs to work unescorted or unmonitored in a maritime security zone.





A standardised platform or open-ended box, usually made of wood, that allows mechanical handling of bulk goods during transport and storage.


The maximum width of a vessel that allows vessels to pass through the locks of the original Panama Canal. The maximum dimensions allowed for a ship transiting the Panama Canal was: length 294.1 m, width 32.3 m, draught 12.0 m and air draught 57.91 m. The new Panamax dimensions are 366 m x 49 m x 15.2 m.


An experienced mariner with local knowledge whose job is to provide advice to the Master of a vessel when navigating in and out of a harbour or through a difficult stretch of water.


The act of assisting the Master of a vessel in navigation when entering or leaving a port.

Port side

The left hand side of a ship when facing the front or forward end. The port side of a ship during darkness is indicated by a red light.


A container vessel that is too large, particularly due to its width (beam), to fit through the Panama Canal.

Plimsoll line

A series of horizontal lines and a circle with a horizontal line painted near the middle of both sides of the body of a vessel marking the maximum draught to which a vessel can be loaded.

Pre-Delivery Inspection (PDI)

A standard procedure carried out where motor vehicles are fitted with compliance plates and custom options in preparation for their delivery to dealerships.




A type of container that is capable of maintaining the temperature of frozen, chilled or warm cargo.

Revenue tonne

The billing unit in the shipping industry. One revenue tonne equals the weight in tonnes or the volume in cubic metres, whichever is higher in terms of freight.

Roll-on/Roll-off vessel (Ro/Ro)

Ships that are designed to carry wheeled cargoes. They have built in ramps that are lowered on the waterside platform to allow the vehicles to be effectively ‘rolled on’ and ‘rolled off’ the vessel on their own wheels.



An inclined longitudinal timber support, on which a ship is built and launched, or repaired. The angle of inclination depends on the size of the ship.

South Channel

The main shipping channel in southern Port Phillip Bay.


The right-hand side of a ship when facing the front or forward end. The starboard side of a ship during darkness is indicated by a green light.


The rear of a ship.


The placing of goods in a ship in such a way as to ensure the safety and stability of the ship, not only on a sea or ocean passage, but also while in port when parts of the cargo have been loaded or discharged.

Straddle carrier

A vehicle on wheels, open in the middle that can pick up and transport containers within a container terminal. They are capable of straddling rows of containers two to three high.


Individual dock worker or firm that employs dock workers to load and unload vessels.


The Heads

The two pieces of land (Point Nepean and Point Lonsdale) which mark the entrance to Port Phillip Bay.

The Rip

The triangular area of water between Point Nepean, Shortlands Bluff and Point Lonsdale connecting Port Phillip Bay and Bass Strait.

Transport Safety Victoria (TSV)

Victoria’s integrated safety regulator for maritime, bus and rail transport.


The temporary cloudy water from suspension of sediment in the water column.

Twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU)

A container size standard of twenty feet. Two twenty-foot containers (TEUs) equal one forty-foot equivalent unit (FEU). Container vessel capacity and port throughput capacity are frequently referred to in TEUs.




Ventilated containers for carriage of perishables needing ventilation.

Vessel Traffic Services (VTS)

A marine traffic monitoring system that manages port traffic, coordinates port services and disseminates relevant information. VTS operators use a range of equipment to monitor ship movements including radar tracking, automatic identification systems, and other radio communications, closed circuit television and mobile and conventional telephones.



The charge that an owner of a facility (terminal or port) charges for the movement of cargo through that facility.