Each ocean vessel, transporting thousands of shipping containers at a time, provides data that enables any shipper to track a container. Transportation visibility is in increasing demand, the visibility that often starts with the first leg of crossing the ocean. There are several ways shippers can keep their supply chains informed with container shipment tracking—from various websites to APIs. We’re looking at the different ways to track a container shipment, common container tracking milestones, plus three ways to complete the search using an API.
How to Track a Container
Methods of Collecting Data
There is more than one way for a shipper to track a container. Similarly, there’s more than one behind-the-scenes method for collecting data that supply shippers with shipment location and status visibility. Container data collection involves two types of data—AIS and CTDs.
AIS, or Automatic Identification System, provides the location using a transponder on board the vessel. Ships of 300 GT and up traveling internationally are required to maintain AIS in operation, sending information such as IMO number, name, call sign, dimensions, ETA, navigational status, position, speed over ground, and course over ground.
CTDs, or Container Tracking Devices, are another method of collecting data specific to the container rather than the vessel. CTDs are installed inside a shipping container to transmit GPS location data, plus information from temperature and movement sensors.
Methods for Shippers to Track a Container
Via Shipping Line Websites – As the most common way to track a container shipment, shippers can go directly to the carriers’ websites to search for each container and get the latest data from the vessel.
- CMA CGM
- CNC Line
- Hamburg Süd
- Wan Hai Lines
- WEC Lines
- Yang Ming
Via Container Tracking Websites – These are websites explicitly made for shippers to access container shipment tracking. With a connection to the carrier via EDI/API, they pass information from AIS data to the shipper.
Via 3PL or Freight Forwarder – Shippers that use a 3PL or freight forwarder can often find their container data through the website of their logistics provider, as a service they extend to their customers.
Via API Integration – Integration with a TMS, ERP, or a supply chain control tower is possible through a container tracking API. A visibility provider that collects data from the carrier, AIS, and other sources supplies the data directly into the customer’s system of choice.
Via a No-Code Solution – With a no-code option through a visibility provider like VIZION, shippers can get the same tracking updates sent to a spreadsheet, where they only need a Google account and the provided API key to get started.
What are the Container Tracking Milestones?
According to the data provided by container shipment tracking, thousands of unique events are possible. These translate to dozens of container milestones. Here are some of the most common.
- Gate out empty from origin port – The empty container has left the terminal to be stuffed at a warehouse.
- Gate in full at origin port – The full container has returned to the terminal.
- Vessel arrival at origin port, transshipment port, or destination port – The vessel has arrived at the port.
- Loaded on vessel at origin port or at transshipment port – The container has been loaded onto the vessel for transport.
- Vessel departure from origin port or transshipment port – The vessel has departed and is now in transit.
- Vessel berthed at origin port, transshipment port, or destination port – The vessel has berthed, and containers will soon be loaded or unloaded.
- Discharged from vessel at destination port or at transshipment port – The container has been unloaded from the vessel and is now at the terminal.
- Gate out full from destination port – The full container has left the terminal to be de-stuffed at a warehouse.
- Gate in empty at destination port – The empty container has returned to the terminal.
How to Track and Search for Container Shipments
To check the status of a container via API, shippers must search using one of the following three unique identifiers.
The simplest way to identify a shipping container is to use its container number assigned by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization). This alphanumeric identifier is composed of four letters and seven digits. Knowing their container number, shippers enter this into the search terms to check for updates, either in a container tracking website or an API.
Master BOL Number
The master bill of lading is the contract between the carrier and shipper, and the carrier associates each master BOL’s number with the container carrying the shipment. Like the container number, this BOL number can be used on a carrier’s tracking website or in an API.
Auto Carrier Identification
If the shipper does not know the carrier used for a shipment, does not have the master BOL, and therefore is unable to search using the correct carrier code with the container ID, there is one other option—using auto carrier identification provided by VIZION. Unlike the previous two search methods, auto carrier identification is meant for when there is no other option. It can search through the many different carrier possibilities and find the correct carrier and container for a shipment.
Get More from Your Container Tracking via API
Auto carrier identification is just one added benefit of VIZION not found with other methods of container shipment tracking. APIs provide more complete visibility data than carrier websites or container tracking sites. Shippers get standardization of raw carrier events and AIS data and data enrichment from added sources for the most thorough and usable container status updates. With VIZION, 98% of global shipments are trackable to provide industry-leading quality and visibility. To see how an API can improve your container shipment tracking, reach out to VIZION today to schedule a demo.