Although the Port of Bristol is not centrally located, it is one of the most convenient ports for the distribution of shipping containers. This is due to the excellent motorway and rail infrastructure that services the area. Bristol can boast motorway and freight rail services in every direction.
At the Port of Bristol there are two container terminals, Portbury and Avonmouth. The Portbury terminal has three gantry cranes for the loading and unloading of shipping containers, while Avonmouth has two. Portbury has one crane more, but Avonmouth has a larger capacity for containers, being able to accommodate 3,500 units, and Portbury, 3,000.
Another advantage Bristol has over its competitors in the South West, is, that the port can accommodate larger ships than others. The deep-sea berths at Bristol can take cargo from ships up to 130,000 tonnes. They also have an extensive warehousing facility. The covered warehousing units cover an area of 120,000 square metres, along with outside storage of 34 hectares, Bristol is also well equipped for the storage of Reefer units, with over 100 electricity points.
As well as cargo being imported and exported worldwide via Bristol, the port also has weekly services to; Bilbao, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, and destinations in the Mediterranean.
Bristol is the hub for the shipping container industry in the South West, and the loading and unloading of the shipping containers is a time consuming job. Prior to the inception of shipping containers for transoportation, loading a shipping vessel could take three weeks, Bristol can load the same amount of cargo in a day. This is still a logistically difficult and complex process. Shipping containers cannot just be lifted off from a ship in any order, due to the stability of the ship itself, and when loading, many considerations need to be thought out first. The heaviest containers need to be loaded first, so that they sit below deck level, but at the same time, those that will be unloaded first needs to be taken into account. Then there are the refrigerated containers and the heated containers. These need to be located near to power points on the ship when loaded. Many shipping containers also carry hazardous cargo, such as explosives or chemicals. These cannot be loaded with the refrigerated containers, due to risk of explosion.
When the containers are loaded onto ships, they need to be secured to the structure of the ship. Below deck level, shipping containers are loaded between cell guides. These stop the containers from moving about while in transit. Once the lower level is loaded and full, large pontoon hatches are loaded and secures to the ship. With the pontoons in place, the shipping containers can then be loaded onto these, and can be piled up to six containers high. The lower tiers of containers, two or three high, are secured by attaching strong bars, which are then attached to the pontoons with bottle screws. The top tiers of containers are then loaded and secured with either twistlocks or conlocks. These special devices lock each corner of the shipping container to the one below.