Real-time and automated container tracking software solutions are transforming the maritime industry by delivering unparalleled visibility and transparency throughout a container’s journey, helping entities remain compliant, avoid penalties, and preserve their reputation via efficient container monitoring.
According to Körber‘s 2023 State of Shipping and Returns Survey, 70% of consumers experienced shipping delays, and 35% of them stated they had not received an explanation for these delays. This survey underscores the importance of augmenting ship visibility through container tracking.
Container tracking presents an innovative and groundbreaking opportunity for industry stakeholders to fulfill customer requirements, preempt unforeseen delays, enhance transparency, and establish accountability.
Automated ship container tracking solutions, like what we provide here at Pole Star Global, offer advantages to shippers, financial departments, government agencies, port authorities, and customers alike. By using Pole Star's PurpleTRAC container tracking software, you will optimise your operations, access real-time information regarding container movements and compliance assessments, and establish a comprehensive audit trail. And to access all of this, you simply need a container number.
In this container tracking software guide, we explain the importance of automated real-time container tracking systems, how such systems work, and the distinct advantages that arise from integrating these systems into your maritime operations.
These advantages encompass decreased shipping expenses, streamlined transhipment management, and the establishment of transparent and effective supply chains. You'll also learn how container tracking software can identify port congestion and assess port efficiency.
Furthermore, you’re granted exclusive access to our container tracking software solution, PurpleTRAC, giving you a practical resource for proficient container tracking management.
Complete the form below to request a demo of Pole Star Global's container tracking software solution, PurpleTRAC. In this demo, you'll see how our container tracking software works to fully screen vessels and a container's journey, with a complete audit trail and downloadable reports. We also discuss these capabilities later in this article.
Container tracking employs technology to monitor the whereabouts and condition of shipping containers throughout their journey, from their point of origin until they reach their final destination. The primary objective is to help organisations anticipate supply chain challenges and prevent potential delays, while also ensuring compliance and accountability.
The concept of container tracking encompasses both basic manual tracking methods and advanced automated solutions that furnish real-time insights regarding a container's progression through the supply chain.
Leading the field is Pole Star's container tracking solution, PurpleTRAC, which furnishes dynamic, up-to-the-minute container information across 165+ carriers (which is the maximum in the industry) and 1800+ watchlists. This encompasses comprehensive reports detailing a container's port visits, precise arrival times, involved vessels, ownership particulars, and alerts for potential breaches of sanctions tied to shipments linked with the container. This methodology delivers a holistic overview of the container's journey, encompassing loading, unloading, and any transhipment events to streamline inspections. Additionally, access to PDF reports that outline the container's port visits and exact arrival times ensures a thorough and traceable audit trail.
Plus, if you’re not sure which container to choose, our PurpleTRAC software comes with an auto-detect carrier feature. Track containers by selecting the auto-detect carrier option, or simply skip this step and submit the container number on its own. The carrier will still be screened.
Container screening via PurpleTRAC uses track and trace data from carriers combined with vessel/company/location screening on PurpleTRAC (ship + sanction data). It’s a snapshot screening result. Estimated Time of Arrival (ETAs) are based on a carrier's schedule and the actual timestamps are as confirmed by the carrier. This feature provides the most recent result, so when screening the container again sometime later, some estimated events would have changed to actual timestamps and a vessel could have alerts where it didn’t before.
PurpleTRAC’s container tracking feature will provide:
Pole Star Global’s PurpleTRAC container tracking solution gives a real portrait of container movements between loading and unloading points, yielding more precise Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) predictions for the global array of container vessels. All you need to access this information is a container’ number.
To help you comprehend automated container tracking solutions and the benefits they give, we’ve defined key terms commonly used in the industry in our glossary below.
Hence, these agreements define ownership, responsibility, and risk during transportation.
The significance of today’s new and innovative container tracking systems differs depending on the stakeholders in question. Different stakeholders will value distinct facets of container tracking solutions, as discussed:
The traditional journey of a shipping container goes something like this:
Sometimes a container will stop at multiple transhipment hubs (hence, it’s easy to see how the process can get a little complicated). Transhipments are necessary when there’s no direct link - or links aren’t cost-effective - between the POL and POD. Other reasons for a transhipment are that the POD is unavailable due to external factors, or the POD can’t handle vessels of a certain size.
To navigate the risks associated with transhipments, it’s important you’re aware of the reasons behind potential delays ahead of time, and that you’re able to keep track of a given container’s whereabouts during its shipment.
When a transhipment takes place, there’s the risk that containers will get lost or delayed during unloading and loading periods. These delays might stem from scenarios such as rollover errors - which is when a container isn't loaded onto the designated vessel - or a tight transhipment window - meaning operations aren’t completed as scheduled. We discuss potential causes of container delays later in this article.
Real-time container tracking empowers organisations to take immediate action and avert potential setbacks, whether it involves addressing rollovers or managing tight transhipment schedules more effectively.
Prior to the introduction of automated container-tracking software solutions, shipping companies used manual methods to monitor container locations. They relied on periodic updates from ports, waiting for these updates to appear on the port's website.
Carriers were then required to visit the port's website to find out which ships had arrived. This data had to be manually updated by freight forwarders or shippers on their respective sites. To meet the needs of their customers, it was the responsibility of the carriers to manually communicate any issues. This process is sluggish and susceptible to errors, which can lead to incomplete and inaccurate information due to misunderstandings or communication breakdowns.
In light of these shortcomings, to remain competitive, entities today are utilising automated processes for tracking shipping containers. By improving transparency and through automation, container tracking software solutions give clarity on delays, and reduce late fees and penalties - most notably detention and demurrage charges.
Below, we discuss the benefits of container tracking software further.
An estimated 226 million container boxes are shipped each year. The average number of containers lost at sea for the last three years (2020-2022) is approximately 2,301 per year (as reported by The World Shipping Council’s (WSC) annual Containers Lost at Sea report). What’s encouraging about this report is that the number of containers lost at sea fell to just 661 in 2022. Such a drop can be attributed to innovative developments within the maritime industry which have created and improved container tracking software for improved monitoring of shipping containers.
These developments have brought numerous benefits to the entities that deploy them, which include:
Freight forwarders, beneficial cargo owners (BCOs), importers, and exporters are forced to act as investigators to locate a given shipment, to know where a given container is, and to understand where it’s going. Any delays must be investigated. Container tracking software will automate such investigations and give you the transparency you need to understand exactly what has gone on. But to fully realise the benefits of this software, you need to understand how delays happen in the first place.
It’s important to note that any given delay in one area of a container's journey will have a domino effect and could cause further delays in the rest of the journey. For instance, a short transhipment buffer could cause a rollover delay. The container is then slow to leave the TSP, and this late departure results in a later time of arrival at the POL.
On using Pole Star’s container tracking software solution, full transparency is given over the reasons for a container's delay, removing the need for time-consuming, manual detective work.
Containers pass through multiple milestones during a standard journey, with the most critical but least reported milestones being the ATA and ATD. Any delays in carrier updates can cause unnecessary demurrage fees as a result.
Sophisticated container tracking solutions give full visibility of key milestones, including:
Two important factors that can determine whether a container will be delayed are the overall port efficiency (or turnover time), and port congestion. In this final section of this guide, we explain how you can use container tracking software, such as Pole Star’s PurpleTRAC solution, to estimate these factors.
The quicker the turnaround time at TSPs, the more efficient the port is, and the lower the likelihood that delays will occur.
Container tracking solutions detail the time a container arrived at a port and the time the container left the port. Analysing port call durations reveals the average time a ship spends in a particular port. Longer turnover times indicate decreased efficiency.
Port efficiency can then be used to predict how long a container will take to leave the POL before arriving at the final POD. Note that when predicting this, you need visibility over the entire fleet of container vessels in line before you - and their container shipping status - as this will determine the level of port congestion.
Assessing port congestion is often simplified by counting the number of ships waiting outside the port. However, this approach can be misleading. For instance, it overlooks ships that intentionally slow down on their route to save fuel or due to congestion concerns. A more accurate measure would be to assess transit times, as we do here at Pole Star, which involves tracking when a ship exits the geofenced zone of its departure port, and when the ship enters the geofenced zone of its destination port.
For instance, transit times from China to the US West Coast ports peaked at 50 days in December 2021 and decreased to 32 days in August 2022. This change reflects the increased wait times for ships to dock in December 2021. Whether ships waited outside the port or sailed more slowly to manage congestion, considering transit times gives a more comprehensive view.
Using Pole Star’s PurpleTRAC container tracking software solution, you can analyse data from the waiting area, transit times, and port call durations. Using this information, it becomes possible to accurately gauge whether port congestion is worsening or improving.
Join Pole Star Global as our team goes on tour.
We'll be showcasing our best-in-class container tracking software and technology at major events across the globe. Come and visit our stand at any of the following:
Let us help you, as we'll showcase how our container tracking software and technology solutions can support your maritime operations. We look forward to meeting you, see you there!
The emergence of real-time container tracking software solutions represents a transformative shift in the maritime industry, ushering in a new era of visibility, transparency, and accountability throughout the container journey. The increasing complexities of global trade demand innovative approaches to address delays, inefficiencies, and compliance issues. Container tracking software, exemplified by solutions like Pole Star Global's PurpleTRAC, not only address these challenges but also empower industry stakeholders to take proactive measures that optimise operations, reduce costs, and enhance customer satisfaction.
Such solutions cater to a range of stakeholders – from shippers and financial institutions to governments and customers – offering them a means of streamlining operations, identifying inefficiencies, and maintaining compliance with increased confidence.
In this ever-evolving landscape, automated container tracking stands as a pivotal advancement that not only mitigates the risks and challenges associated with transhipments and delays but also ushers in an era of data-driven decision-making. By embracing these cutting-edge solutions, stakeholders across the maritime industry can optimise their operations, enhance supply chain management, and navigate the seas of global trade with heightened visibility and unprecedented accountability.