An intermodal shipping container is a cargo unit for transport by sea or land which can be used across different types of transport (ship, rail, and truck). The standard size of sea containers is referred to as TEU (Twenty feet Equivalent Unit). The 20 feet container is approximately 6 meters long. The most common sizes are the 20feet, 40feet and the 45feet and the least common are the 10feet and the 30feet containers.

More than 40 years ago people started using containers for transporting their goods by sea. This has led to various developments:

  • The emergence of specialized container companies.
  • The development of special container ships for transporting containers by sea.
  • The development of container terminals for inland shipping.
  • Specialist cargo trucks and trains were introduced to make it possible to transport containers by land.


A unique system has been developed for recognizing intermodal shipping containers.



containers klaar om te verschepen

All containers have a code consisting of 3 parts: 

  1. The first 4 letters represent the owner’s code – the first 3 letters stand for the owner’s name and the last one is a U for Unit. A 6-digit serial number follows the owner’s code.
  2. A country code consisting of at least 2 digits.
  3. A 4-digit code that indicates the size and type of container.

What types of intermodal shipping containers are there?

  1. Standard container: Often made of steel or aluminum. Used for general cargo and they can also be ventilated.
  2. Thermal container: These containers are insulated.
  3. Open top containers: As the name implies, they have an open top which can be covered with a tarp. Often used when products are too large to fit in a container.
  4. Platform containers: These containers have a thicker base useful to transport heavy goods.
  5. Tank container: This is a tank enclosed in a metal frame and it’s used to transport liquid.
  6. Insulated container: Kept cooled with the aid of an external motor but they are not very common.
  7. Bulk container: Good for transporting bulk goods.

Containers are indispensable in our contemporary transport system. Containers contribute to faster throughput, minimize the risk of theft, and reduce the likeliness of damage during transport.