Each and every port has a unique arrangement and number of marine terminals. For example, one terminal may be equipped with grain elevators to unload/load dry bulk commodities, such as coal and grains transported by dry bulk vessel, while another uses ship-to-shore gantry cranes to unload/load container cargo from containerships or pipelines to unload/load liquid bulk cargo, such as natural gas and oil from tankers.
Observed vessel entrances and ship type provide a means for identifying the type of cargo handled by a port. Each category of waterborne cargo requires a particular type of vessel and marine terminal. A port's marine terminals must have the necessary cargo handling equipment and supporting intermodal infrastructure. This program covers five major categories of waterborne cargo:
As shown for select ports in the following figure, container vessels predominantly call at ports with marine terminals having good road and rail connections, mostly along the Nation's Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Dry bulk vessels primarily call at ports that are located near iron ore deposits along the Great Lakes or located near the farms growing food and farm products along the Mississippi River System. Ports like Baltimore, Jacksonville, and Tacoma handle a sizeable share of Ro/Ro vessels.
Tankers call at ports with liquid bulk terminals that have pipeline connections or refineries located nearby. These marine terminals are primarily located at ports along the Gulf of Mexico. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, nearly half of total U.S. petroleum refining capacity is located along the Gulf coast as is more than half of U.S. natural gas processing plant capacity. Further, the states in this region have dense concentrations of interstate and intrastate crude oil, gas, and petroleum product pipelines.