Defining Small and Medium-Sized Ports and their Characteristics


Small and Medium-Sized ports (SMPs) are of vital importance as they constitute nodes of Supply Chain Services (SCSs) that connect the small, often remote, regions to the rest of the world. In order to further study SMPs to understand their needs, special situations and how vulnerable they may be to security incidents, it is first necessary to understand their characteristics. So, what exactly is an SMP?


European Sea Ports Organization (ESPO) published a report on the governance of European ports, according to which port authorities are distinguished based on the annual volume of goods handled into:

  • small: 10 million tonnes maximum;
  • medium: more than 10 million tonnes and 50 million tonnes maximum;
  • large: more than 50 million tonnes.


Based on the official guidelines of the Trans-European Networks (TENs), which include the transport, energy and telecommunications sectors, seaports are divided into three major categories:

  • ports of international importance: minimum total annual transport volume of 1.5 million tonnes of cargo or 200,000 passengers;
  • ports of European Union (EU) importance: minimum total annual transport volume of 0.5 million tonnes of cargo or 100,000 passengers;
  • ports of local importance: provide access to insular, regional or particularly remote areas.


According to the study of the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) on good practices for cyber security in shipping, ports can be classified into three main groups, depending on the categories of their maritime SCS infrastructure and services:

  • cargo: those that have special infrastructures for the management of operations, such as loading, unloading and storage of goods, sanitary and customs control, etc., and related to any type of cargo, for example liquid, dry, container, etc.;
  • passenger: those whose infrastructures are specially designed for the transport of vehicles and passengers and provide reception services for them on ships with parking areas, passenger corridors, bars/restaurants, etc., e.g. serve ferries or Roll-on/Roll-off (Ro-Ro) ships, where the goods are transported in trucks and lorries;
  • fishing: those which provide services related to fishing, through their special infrastructures, such as the reception of fishing vessels, loading and unloading, inspection, storage and cooling of catches, etc.


Ports can also be categorized based on the type of water or land that encloses them:

  • seaports: built on the coast of the sea or ocean;
  • inland ports: built near small water shorelines, such as lakes, rivers or their estuaries, which may end up in the sea or ocean, through a system of canals;
  • dry ports: types of inland ports, built in areas without water, which are connected to seaports by roads or railway facilities and usually act as multi modal transport hubs;
  • warm-water ports: built near waters that do not freeze during the winter, allowing their operation throughout the year.


Other types of ports are the following:

  • cruise home ports: usually consist of large terminals, from where services are provided for embarking and receiving cruise ship passengers, as well as loading and unloading supplies useful for the cruise, for example from drinking water and fuel to luxury food and beverages;
  • ports of call: ship station, which can be defined by charter, included in a predetermined itinerary of any type of ship for loading and unloading of goods, receiving and embarking passengers or traveling cruise ships or to be used in emergency cases of danger or need patrol boats, navy, denunciation, sabotage, inspection, control of violation of legislation, supply, etc.;
  • ports of entry (POE): stations with a special customs presence, where services are provided to receive passengers and goods in a country, as well as border security services, passport control, baggage and goods inspection, etc.;
  • smart ports: those that use smart technologies in order to manage their SCS more efficiently, for example Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, cloud-based software, automation, etc.


For the purposes of the CYSMET project the categorization of ports will be focused on two main axes; their size and the type of SCS they manage. More specifically, for size, the ESPO categorization will be followed, i.e. small port authorities are considered to be those handling 10 million tonnes of annual cargo volume at most, and the ones handling more than 10 million tonnes and 50 million tonnes maximum will be considered medium sized ports. While regarding the type of SCS that can be managed by the ports, their distinction will mainly be made according to that of ENISA, i.e., cargo, passenger and fishing. Regarding the latter, it should be taken into account that SMPs are multi-purpose, so they are often used as cargo, passenger, and fishing purposes at the same time.


Following this analysis, the CYSMET paper “The Security Value of Small and Medium Sized Ports in a Supply Chain Service” (Zenodo link) was published in Maritime Interdiction Operations, NMIOTC Journal (2022), after being presented at the 6th NMIOTC Cyber Security Conference in the Maritime Domain (2022).


Finally, in the CYSMET deliverable 2.1 (Deliverable link) more details regarding the general characteristics of the SMPs and the maritime SCSs can be found.


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