The role of the stevedore in shipping

Stevedore Article by Capt Kahlil U Khan, Regional Director, IIMS Pakistan

Capt Khalil U Khan is a Senior Master Mariner. He is L.L.M (Master of Laws) position holder and has been the Dean of Law at the DIHE Karachi, Chartered by Govt. of Sindh. He is a Nautical & Insurance Consultant and Authorized Surveying Officer, Licensed by Govternment of Pakistan. He is the Chairman of Oceanic Group of Companies.


It is an occupation which involves the cargo operations i.e. loading and unloading of cargoes on ships. It also includes the other various dockside functions. The people engaged in this occupation are known as stevedores in UK & Europe. However, in the United States and other areas are referred to as longshoremen. At present, in countries such as Dubai, Singapore etc. where stevedoring is a commonplace and where all the cargo passes through domestic and international ports is usually handled is known as Freight Station or Freight Terminal. In this scenario, the stevedores do need heavy machinery, such as tractor, trailers, cranes and forklifters, etc. If on the other hand the some other related work is performed manually where use of machinery is not required such as labour or clerical work. The businesses which specialize in loading and unloading vessels are referred to as stevedoring companies.

The word “stevedoring” is derived into the English language from either Spanish or Portuguese, for the people who handle the cargo on merchant or commercial shipping vessels. As it entered into English, it has had a number of slightly different meanings. The stevedore’s occupation is often used interchangeably with others, such as “docker” in the United Kingdom and as “longshoreman” in the United States. Though stevedore can also refer specifically to highly skilled or experienced workers. Stevedoring companies are often used to handle dock work as well, in which case they often employ men and women known as dockers, longshoremen, or wharfies, depending on the location of work.

Until recent decades, stevedores primarily boarded merchant vessels, immediately as the vessel entered a harbour to load / unload the cargo from there, at this point dockers or longshoremen would handle the goods as soon as vessel was in the dock. This distinction has lost some of its originality with the advent of containerized shipping. Today modern stevedoring is equipped with the entire range of cargo handling gear. Since containerization, it had produced lot of advantages towards the international trade and to all stake holders. There is no doubt, that stevedoring had evolved due to containerization.

Stevedoring is typically governed by the country or area it is located in. In some areas, ports are operated by the governments or through a partnership between public and private interests. In other areas all of the stevedoring operations is contracted out to private companies. In cases, where the stevedores who operate at a particular port must belong to a specific particular trade union. The union then decides which stevedores get the available jobs, usually on the basis of some type of seniority. Generally It is difficult to begin a stevedore as a career due to the large number of workers required as compared to the available jobs, and very huge investment is required in addition to the rigorous process required to join the trade union.


Ships make money at sea, when it is carrying its cargo between ports, but when it is alongside a port, it is costing money to its owner. Therefore Ports and Terminals need to be efficient to minimise port time, and get the ship back on its journey as soon as possible. The role of stevedoring companies which organise the cargo-handling in port is very important, in this respect as it can make great difference to the profitability of the voyage.

Stevedores were once organisers of large-scale dock labour . The thousands of dockers who would, move the cargo often manually in and out of the ship’s holds by the “sweat of their brow”. Today’s stevedoring companies and their skilled personnel operate a selection of expensive and sophisticated cargo handling equipment in ports and terminals around the world. Just one of the huge container cranes that span giant ships and their terminals can be worth tens of millions of dollars, while the ground handling equipment, such as the straddle carriers or low loaders can also be expensive. In modern days of terminals nobody talks about “Dockers” – these (terminals) are rather experts in mechanical handling of equipment.

In this modern era, around main world ports, there are “general user” terminals, where the stevedoring workforce is able to handle whatever cargo the ship turns up with the greatest efficiency. It has been recognised, that it comes from the operation of specialised terminals. Thus large container ships, which do not have their own cargo handling equipment, use specialist container terminals, which are designated to handle their boxes, transhipping cargo in and out of both deep-sea and feeder ships and receiving and delivering containers to road / rail transportation, sorting the boxes in enormous stackyards alongside the ships. Special vehicle Terminals with skilled workers load and discharge from car carriers. Some of which can carry 6000 cars at a time, sort them for import and export. While special bulk terminals, with huge adjacent stackyards load or discharge cargoes such as ore or coal, liquid cargoes have their own terminals and skilled staff in their particular trade are working in there terminals.

Stevedores might be thought of as the “interface” between land and sea, both the speed of cargo handling and the efficiency of the voyage, depends upon their skills. If the cargo is put into the ship in the wrong order – and it might be subject to double handling before it gets to its final port . The stevedores’ skills are called upon to “pick up the slack” if the ship is slowed – to save fuel – or by bad weather, getting the delivery of the cargo back on schedule again, appropriate steps being taken by the master of the ship.

Stevedoring companies often do much more than handling the cargo – by adding value at their premises. Thus car terminals will often prepare newly delivered cars for the ultimate sale by dealers, while paper or wood terminals prepare and store cargo for the consignee. Stevedores are skilled experts, who play an increasingly important role and on which we depend for efficient shipping.

Simply, a stevedore is one who loads and unloads cargo on to the ships, typically working in a team to ensure that the process remains smooth and efficient. People who do this job are iconic figures in many cultures, thanks to their extreme strength and infamously impolite mouths; historically, they were known for having quite salty language, just like sailors. They have also played a vital role in the labour movement in many parts of the world, and today, stevedores tend to be members of trade unions, ensuring that they receive reasonable remuneration pay and protection from gruelling working hours and dangerous conditions.

This term stevedoring has been used to describe someone who handles the loading and unloading of ships since the 1700s. It comes from the Spanish estibador, which is derived from estibar, “to stow,” a word that in turn originates in the Latin word stipare, i.e. “to pack.” The usage of the word undoubtedly spread through sailors, who were famous for bringing snippets of foreign language around the world with them. In addition to being referred to as a stevedore, these dock workers are also known as longshoremen or dockers, depending on regional preference. “Longshoreman” is especially common in North America, and is probably derived from “man along the shore,” .A very apt description of someone who does this job in a continent where many ships are unloaded offshore and onto small boats to ensure that their goods reached small communities where larger vessel cannot enter.

By tradition, stevedores are hired by the day, as needed, although some ports maintain a permanent dock staff. In addition to being strong, the individual must also be very familiar with ships, as he or she needs to know the best way to stow a wide variety of cargo items. Historically, this was extremely difficult, thanks to the use of varied packing containers; now that most of the cargo goes by container, this part of the job is a little less challenging, now.

Also the stevedores have to be able to handle dock equipment, such as cranes and forklifts, safely and efficiently, and they need to be aware of emerging safety issues, including hazardous materials on board the ship and around the docks. They are often encouraged to look out for each other on the docks, where conditions can change rapidly, and they have carried this fellowship with them in the tradition of unionization. Someone who wishes to join the union as a stevedore must generally exhibit the basic necessary skills before he or she will be accepted, and in some ports, a person cannot get work without a union card, making membership critical.


A stevedore, dock worker, docker, dock labourer, wharfie or longshoreman can all have various waterfront related meanings, concerning loading and unloading of ships, according to place and country.

Perhaps the word stevedore originated in Portugal or Spain, and entered the English language through its use by sailors. It started as a phonetic spelling of estivador (Portuguese) orestibador (Spanish), meaning a man who stuffs, here in the sense of a man who loads ships, which was the original meaning of stevedore;as compare to Latin stīpāre meaning to stuff, as in to fill with stuffing. In the United Kingdom, men who load and unload ships are usually called dockers, in Australia wharfies, while in the United States and Canada the term longshoreman, derived from man-along-the-shore, is used. Before extensive use of container ships and shore-based handling machinery in the US, longshoremen referred exclusively to the dockworkers, while stevedores, in a separate trade union, worked on the ships, operating ship’s cranes and moving cargo. In 1950, a Stevedoring Company based in Vancouver, BC, was named as Western Stevedoring Company Ltd. It clearly indicates the term Stevedore had been used and it was in use much earlier than this (1950).

Stevedores must be able to endure heat, rain, and wind. Some of stevedore’s duties involve working in cargo holds in the belly of a ship. People in this position must be able to work well with others and have good communication skills, since communication is essential to prevent accidents during the loading and unloading of cargo container.


There are traditional jobs of Stevedore but in addition there are numerous duties. The foremost responsibility is about the safety of cargo, crew and their own. The stevedores unload cargo from ships when they come into port and load until the cargo work completed. These workers used large cranes and forklifts and other cargo gears to move huge cargo containers filled with goods and heavy packages.

The stevedore must see the Captain and Chief officer (Cargo officer) as soon as the vessel comes into port and they board. The stevedore helps berthing of the vessel in a convenient position for cargo operations and assembles a stevedoring crew for loading/unloading cargo. Every port employs a stevedore who must be available twenty four hours a day, since ships enter and leave day and night on irregular schedules (any time of day or night).

The job of stevedore is also inspecting the merchandise for any damage that might have occurred at sea or pre-loading. He examines containers and records any damage to containers and possibly to cargo. The stevedore upon berthing the vessel immediately commences the safe loading /unloading of containers or cargo from/to the ship’s holds. The dockworkers commonly use handheld radios to coordinate the operation of cranes and other heavy equipment. Cargo is transferred from the ship to trains or trucks for transportation to warehouses or stores.

When ships prepare to leave port, the stevedore inspects cargo to ensure proper stowage and lashing of all cargo. Damage to cargo might take place if a large load of goods is shifted during bad weather; therefore, it is essential to secure the cargo for safe transportation.

People working in stevedoring profession usually do not need high education but they do need to acquire licenses or pre-training to operate heavy machinery. Many people who enter this job enjoy ships and working outdoors.

Stevedores are the people who work on the wharfs and on the ships, loading and unloading the cargo. They operate derricks and cranes on the ship as well as the huge container cranes on ship or on shore. On container ships, stevedores take containers from the storage area to the crane and from the crane to the storage area. They secure containers to the ship and to each other. On some wharfs they may also operate conveyor belts or drive cars on or off ships.

Stevedores need to be strong and fit. Those who work outdoors need to wear warm clothes during winter and wet weather gear when it is raining. They work in shifts so that port can operate 24 hours a day.


Loading and unloading ships requires know-how of the operation of loading equipment, proper techniques for lifting and stowing cargo, and correct handling of hazardous materials. In addition, workers must be physically strong and be able to follow orders.

In earlier days before the advent of containerization, men who loaded and unloaded ships had to tie down cargoes with rope, with a type of stopper knot called the stevedore knot. The methods of securely tying up parcels of goods is called stevedore lashing or stevedore knotting. While loading a general cargo vessel, they use dunnage, which are pieces of wood (or nowadays sometimes strong inflatable dunnage bags) set down to keep the cargo out of any water that might be present in the hold or due to cargo and ship’s sweat.

Presently, the vast majority of non-bulk cargo is transported in intermodal containers. The containers arrive at a port by truck, rail or another ship and are stacked in the port’s storage area. When the ships arrive, the containers that it is offloading are unloaded by a crane. The containers either leave the port by truck or rail or are put in the storage area until they are put on another ship. Once the ship is offloaded, the containers loaded on truck brought to the dock. A crane lifts the containers from the trucks into the ship. As the containers pile up in the ship, the workers secure them to the ship and to each other.

The jobs involved include the crane operators, the workers who connect the containers to the ship and each other, the truck drivers that transport the containers from the dock and storage area, the workers who track the containers in the storage area as they are loaded and unloaded, as well as various supervisors. Those workers at the port who handle and move the containers are likely to be considered as stevedores or longshoremen.

Because they work outdoors in all types of weather, these workers adopt a type of cap that has to be secured by fastening or lashing down fitting closely and comfortably warm, and is easily put away in a pocket. These are a type of beanie (knitted cap often wollen, leather and of silk panels) or watch caps called variously stevedore’s cap or stevedore’s hat.

Before containerization, freight was often handled with a longshoreman’s hook, a tool which became emblematic of the profession.

Traditionally, stevedores would have no fixed job and turn up at the docks in the morning hoping to find someone willing to employ them for the day. London dockers called this practice “standing on the stones” while in the United States it was referred to as Shaping. In Britain, due to changes in employment laws, such jobs have either become permanent or have been converted to temporary jobs.

Dock workers have been a prominent part in the modern labour movements.


There are no specific educational requirements for someone who wants to become a stevedore. Companies that hire stevedores, also known as dockers and longshoremen, typically require that they are physically able to lift heavy items. In addition, in order to become a stevedore, you will likely need a valid driver’s license and be at least 18 years of age. Some companies also require that longshoremen have experience driving commercial trucks and vehicles or operating lifting equipment. You can become a stevedore by applying for jobs for stevedores online or in person.

If you want to become a stevedore, job listing websites are a good place to start. Use search terms like “stevedores,” “longshoreman,” or “docker” to find stevedore job listings online. You can also create an account on job search websites. Make sure to indicate that you are actively looking to become a stevedore in your online resume.

You can also apply in-person to become a stevedore. If your town has a port, drive down to the port and visit cargo companies and warehouses in the area to request a job application. If the port is large, find phone numbers for cargo companies at the port online or in the phone book and call to ask where to apply for a job as a longshoreman.

When you apply for the docker position, make sure to complete the entire job application. Include any details about your past experience moving or lifting boxes, packages, or cargo. If you have experience operating heavy equipment or if you have a commercial driver’s license, make sure to include this information on the application. Provide names of references, including phone numbers, for past employers on your application to become a stevedore. Longshoremen often work late hours or on weekends, so make sure to indicate if you are available to work on-call and on the weekends on your application.

When you interview for a docker position, discuss your work experience in detail during the interview. Explain what role you held in related jobs and how your work experience will benefit you in your role as a stevedore. Express your willingness to work odd hours or weekend shifts, to lift heavy equipment and to work outside in bad weather. Since dockers occasionally have to crawl into small spaces or into cargo holds, make sure that the interviewer knows this won’t be a problem for you. Follow-up after the interview to thank the interviewer for taking the time to interview you and to let him or her know that you still want to become a stevedore.


Until the Karachi dock workers (regulating of employment) Scheme was promulgated through the ordinance no XXVlll of 1973 which was passed as an act no lX of 1974 on 1st march 1974. The employment of Dock workers was of a casual nature, which was on the principle of “No-Work – No pay”. The stevedoring organization at the Karachi port used to engage casual labour for the wharves and ship, through their permanent employees i.e. Tindals and Serangs. The dock workers used to assemble twice daily on the road side near KPT head office building and the stevedores used to hire for daily work of loading/unloading of ships. Those not hired went home without any reward.

The stevedores companies had no direct concern with the workers and they took no interest in their welfare, resilling dock workers were not happy with this somewhat inhuman system and agitated for introduction of a Scheme for Registration of dock workers similar to the schemes in vogue at the ports of other countries.

When the Industrial Relations Ordinance, 1969, was promulgated it gave general awakening amongst the dock workers, then in 1970 in Islamabad a Labour Conference representing dock workers, and other stake holder was held.

This scenario generated unrest among the dock workers and resulted in lack of interest and go-slow tactics which caused an unprecedented congestion of ships at the Karachi port. The Karmahom Conference imposed 20% shipping surcharge on Pakistan and there was a threat that the other Conferences may follow this en-suit.

To handle the above series matter the Government responded to the dock workers demand by setting up a committee in Jan 1972 to verify and register the dock workers for the purpose of regulating of their employment. Finally, Rotational system was introduced on 10th August1972.

When the KDLB Scheme was promulgated in 1973, the Board inherited registration of 8,598 workers. This strength was considered surplus when compared to actual requirement of 4,500 workers at that time.

• The gap between acquired and required strength could not be narrowed due to state of unemployment and political situation in the country.
• The Board has been ensuring minimum wages, medical facilities and other allowances to surplus workers on its roster by generating fund through cess.
• The working of KDLB Scheme was reviewed in 2000 and in order to improve economic viability,

i) To impose ban on Son’s registration in place of retired/expired workers.
ii) To rationalize the workers’ strength gradually to 2,500.

The workers’ strength has been reduced to 2,900 as on 31st December 2011 while Board in its meeting of 16th November, 2006 has fixed the target number of Registered Workers to remain on roster as 1700. Steps are being taken to rationalize the workers’ strength to required level of 1700 workers.

In order to summarise the requirements, it may be mentioned that stevedores should possess the following skills as much as possible,
• Load and unload vessels
• Operate heavy vehicles and machinery, such as straddle carriers, forklifters and ship cranes, to load and unload cargo from trucks, ships and rail transport services
• Position goods in the holds of the ship
• Secure cargo on ships using braces to hold it in place
• Carry out safety checks on equipment
• Secure and release mooring lines of ships
• Clean out ship’s tanks and holds
• Knowledge of health and safety procedures
• Possess skills how to handle different types of cargo, particularly containers of dangerous substances
• Knowledge of basic customs and shipping company documents
• Ability to interpret ship loading plans.


At the time of Independence in 1947 there were mainly Parsis in this business and licencing procedure was not business friendly as such only few stevedoring companies were in the business. I believe there were three or four, handling all imports and exports of Pakistan.

By the time late nineties import / export tonnage was increased, therefore, it need far more stevedoring companies were felt, as such Karachi Port Trust issued four licences. Later more licences were issued. With the passage of time a change in policy to issue stevedoring licences were relaxed. As a result of this change at present 40 stevedoring companies have the licences, mainly are, A R Khan & Son P Ltd, Alhaushabi Stevedores P Ltd, Cowasjee & Sons, Modern Terminal Operators, Wiltrans Cargo Services and as such 35 more companies are operating.

When Port Qasim in 1979 started its operations, they approved cargo handling companies who were stevedores and most of the companies are working on BOT / BOO basis such as QICT, FOTCO, FAP, LCT, Engro Terminal & SSGC(LPG) and Port Gwadar in the year 1990 started its operations to a sizeable extent, they also started issuing licences and at present to work one have to have licences issued by them.

The stevedoring companies have responsible of other operations such as handling all the deliveries to consignees and also surveys as and if needed. At present in Port Gwadar there are three stevedoring companies who are undertaking all discharging and loading in stevedoring work.

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