Any business involved in moving goods between countries will likely have been faced with the choice of going via SEA or AIR*. Both methods have their merits and their detraction's.
Depending on the what, where, when, why of your shipment needs, you can easily figure out the how.
(*Road and Rail are 2 other viable methods for moving goods internationally...but Australia has a very distinct disadvantage when it comes to these 2 transport options!)
Moving goods internationally demands tremendous knowledge and experience. A different set of rules, regulations and implemented practices makes transferring of assets through air or sea even more challenging.
The 2 main considerations to distinguish SEA and AIR freight are SPEED and COST. Additionally, there are other notable factors such as reliability, security, and environmental impact.
When it comes to speed, there is no question that air freight is usually much faster. Many sea shipments can take 3-5 weeks to arrive, while an air shipment takes a day or two. For most business shipping faster is better, but since time is money, this cost-factor plays a major role in the decision making process.
It should be noted that technology keeps moving forward in the international shipping world. Ships are getting faster, and sea-routes are being created to make distances shorter between locations.
Typically, you will hear that shipping by sea is cheaper than shipping by air. In general, this is true; however this is not necessarily the case. To make the best decision, it helps to be educated about how carriers charge for international shipping.
Airlines bill you by what is called a 'chargeable weight', calculated from a combination of the weight and size of a shipment.
Sea carriers charge by container rates for shipping in standard container size (common sizes are 20’ and 40’). While weight can factor into the price from sea carriers, their charge tends to be based more on the size of a shipment. If you are shipping less than a container load, your price is often determined by cubic meter.
With larger and heavier shipments, it is often much cheaper to ship by sea. Sea shipping is considered the better option for large volumes of goods and for cargo that is large and has irregular shape. As a shipment gets smaller, the margin between the prices gets smaller and sometimes air will even end up less expensive.
Shippers should note that there are destination charges to consider. Whether shipping by air or by sea, there will be customs and destination fees. While the actual shipment cost of sea freight is usually cheaper than the shipment cost of air freight, the warehousing fees at seaports are many times more expensive than those at airports.
Air transportation are susceptible to bad weather and other adversities, but all-things-considered it is the most reliable freighting method. This is especially true if the air carrier has extensive experience and operates many daily flights.
This is not to say that sea freight is unreliable. They are generally very reliable, with vessels undergoing regular inspections to confirm that are in good condition when they leave the port. Additionally, most ships are designed to overcome all kinds of weather conditions so that they can keep their schedule. If bad weather might cause delays, it usually does not delay for more than one or two days.
When you choose your international freight forwarder, ask about insurance coverage for either of these options, as it is peace of mind for a small additional charge on top of your freight charges.
If judging by the amount/weight of goods shipped, sea freight is by far the most environmentally respectful choice of transport. It reported that an equivalent weight sent by air will emit over 100 times the harmful greenhouse gases than a full cargo ship. (1.5 tones of goods create 0.124 tones of carbon dioxide (CO2) via SEA, while sending the same product by air created 13.5 tones of CO2.
Whatever your method, there are pros and cons of both to consider. It is best to consult your fulfilment specialist, or freight forwarder to help decide.