Ports as transport centres to logistic platforms

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UNCTAD has grouped ports into three generations based on port development policy, strategy and attitude, the scope and extension of port activities and integration of port activities and organization (UNCTAD, 1992, P. 13).This depicts the role played from generation to generation.

First generation ports

Until 1960, Ports played simple role as link between maritime and inland transportation systems. The major port activities being carried out were cargo handling, storage and navigational services. Cargoes handled were general and some bulk. Other activities were not often carried out in the port area. The role of the port did not extend to ships and cargo outside the concentrated waterfront area. This role isolated the port from transport, trade activities and the municipality that surrounds the port. Ports did not care much about the needs of their customers, interest in trade and transport in their decision making process was limited and hardly considered port marketing promotion. Moreover various activities within the port were not integrated (UNCTAD, 1992, p.13).

Second generation ports

The role changed in the 80s, in addition to traditional role, ports were seen as transport, industrial and commercial service centre hence industrial and commercial services were rendered to port users. The role of ports extended to other services such as packaging, labeling, cargo transformation and physical distribution with Industrial facilities established in the port area. Ports developed and expanded towards its hinterland with industries and now have closer relationship with transport and trade partners and the municipality. Moreover, the different activities within the port are becoming more integrated (UNCTAD, 1992, p. 13-14).

Third generation ports

Containerization and intermodalism together with increasing requirement of international trade affected the role. Ports are now turning into integrated transport and logistics centres for international trade. In addition to the first and second generation services, ports render logistics and total distribution services. Modern equipment and management know how controlled by electronic information technology are used for efficient operation. Ports now analyze the needs of customers in detail and see port marketing as an important tool (UNCTAD, 1992, p. 14-15).

The model only considered the generations between sea and shore interface without touching on the size, geographical location or public/ private sector participation. The classification is rigid which differs from reality and equates all cargo and ship operations and function under the same generation.

Another development is seen in port integration which has resulted in a fourth generation port.

"A fourth generation port is defined as ports which are physically separated but linked through common operators or through a common administration" (UNCTAD, 1999, pp. 9).

Any port model

Bird (1980) described the changing role in terms of how port infrastructure develops in time and space. A three stage process was used, setting, expansion and specialization. "Ports are bound by the need to serve ships and access to navigable water has been historically the most important site consideration" (Rodrigue, 2006, p.132).


The location of a port depends on geographical consideration hence ports were located adjacent to downtown areas. The role of ports is to provide basic terminal facilities which included warehousing and wholesaling. Changes in ship's size and handling during the industrial revolution necessitated new site required for expansion. This affected facilities provided by ports hence the role (Rodrigue, 2006, p.132).


Industrial revolution had great impact on port activities which made ports to evolve from the original site. Port infrastructures were expanded to cater for high volumes of cargo and larger ships. Also there was an integration of rail lines with port terminals and the activities of the port extended to include industrial. Further development in the industry had impact on ports role (Rodrigue, 2006, p.133).


Ship specialization and increase in size had impact on port site and infrastructure. Ports constructed specialized jetties for handling cargoes. Dredging became necessary for big vessels as well as expansion of warehousing (Rodrigue, 2006, p.133). Though the model is valid, it did not explain the current increase in transshipment, terminals and port networking.

Stopford also described the changing role in terms of activity Levels.

According to Stopford, "the facilities provided in a port depend on the type and volume of cargo which is in transit. As trade changes so do the ports" (Stopford, 2009, p. 82). Four activity levels are identified.

Level 1: small local ports

The role of ports is to handle small trade volumes of various cargoes transported by short -sea ships therefore the facilities provided are basic consisting of general purpose berth and warehouses. As trade volume increase, the facilities increase affecting ports role.

Level 2: Large local ports

These ports handle high volumes of cargo which affects the facilities provided by ports. Terminals are constructed when the volume of cargo increases with the required draft to handle bigger vessels that call at the port. Some facilities may be expanded and cargo handling equipment to cater for the high traffic level will be bought. Railway lines and roads for easy inland transportation are all considered.

Level 3: Large regional ports

These ports handle high volumes of cargo from deep sea carries and require specialized terminal facilities. Modern cargo handling equipment such as gantry cranes, fork-lift are used as well as the provision of storage space. Ports then provide the needed facilities to cater for the new development.

Level 4: Regional distribution centre

These ports are regarded as distribution hubs for cargo transported in very large vessels for distribution to smaller local ports with terminals dedicated to a particular cargo. These ports provide facilities for transshipment (Stopford, 2009, P. 82-83). The model did not explain the private sector involvement in port operations.

The World Bank also describes the changing role of ports in terms of changes in public and private interest in ownership structure, contracts and regulation, reform and development.

Public service port

The role of the port is to render complete varieties of services to ensure the proper functioning of the port. The port owns and is in charge of all assets and cargo handling activities. All functions of the port are solely carried out by the port authority.

Tool ports

Recent development is changing ports role to roles played by tool ports because of private sector participation. Though the port authority owns the asset and handles cargo, the port allows private firms to carry out some level of cargo handling activities unlike service port where all cargo handling activities are carried out by the port authority.

Landlord ports

The port authority now plays the role of a regulatory body and as landlord. Port operations are undertaking by private firms with leased infrastructure from port authority. Superstructure and equipment are provided and maintained by the private firms.

Fully privatized ports

Private firms own all assets and render all services with no state involvement

(The World Bank, 2007, p.82-83).

The model did not touch on the role the port is playing in the supply chain.

Ports are seen as part of a cluster of organization where various logistic and transport operators are involved to bring value to the final consumer. Ports are becoming integrated transport centre and logistic platforms for international trade (Carbone& De Martino, 2003, pp. 306,311).

The role of the port has now extended from services rendered to vessels and their cargo to distribution and logistics hub making the port part of the production and logistics chain (Bichou, 2009, pp.47, 48). The Port's role has changed from just a link in international transport to trading centres due to containerization, political event, industrialization, free trade zones, privatization and distripark (Branch, 1998, p.168).


Developments in international transport have affected the size of ports, infrastructure, services provided as well as private sector participation in port operations. This has extended the role of ports to the provision of various services and activities to support the supply chain in meeting the pressing needs of customers which go beyond the traditional cargo handing functions. Most ports are now distribution centres.

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