While almost every freighter is capable of landing planetside, this is surprisingly not a common occurrence. Landing fields need to be surveyed and rated for the size of ship that lands, and a large freighter can easily mass more than a skyscraper even before cargo is taken into account. More importantly though, a landing evolution takes time. And every captain, whether they sailed a fluyt, a container ship, or a starship will tell you that the more time they spend sitting still, the less money they are earning.
What this quickly lead to was the creation of the container shuttle. While derived from the more standard “heavy shuttle”, this one dispensed with any pretense of onboard cargo capacity or long term habitation. Equipped at best for a day’s occupation, the heavy shuttle instead had a pair of massive cargo grapnel arms that allowed it to mechanically lock onto and move containers. In addition to keeping the larger NF-8000 containers secure in transit, the grapnel system also helps push containers out, a requirement given how tightly packed the container racks were onboard ship. Almost every port has at least one of these container shuttles, with the largest maintaining entire fleets.
The key benefit of this arrangement is, as mentioned. Time. It takes perhaps a half hour to completely secure a single NF-series container onboard a ship, but much of the work can be done in parallel. While one latch point is being prepared for a container, the one before it is having a container delivered, and a third latch point is securing the container rack, verifying power feeds and ensuring that the load will be secure for the whole trip. In this manner, what normally would take almost two weeks for a ship to transload could instead be done in only two or three days.
The container shuttle is a design that I struggled with quite a bit, and this sketch merely represents my current, “best” line of thought. It’s a challenging piece of industrial kit, and I’m still not really happy with it. Mechanically, it resembles a straddle carrier more than anything else, but not quite. These things are probably as ubiquitous as tugboats are in a modern port, perhaps moreso as they also provide resupply and support to other ships (mostly by moving specially designed containers to cater to needs).