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Did you know that one in six container journeys result in damage to cargo .Yet over half of these could be easily avoided! (UK P&I Club)
Damage is often the result of bad packaging, choosing inadequate containers, poor labeling and insufficient security and safety measures.
The following advice from Thomas Millar P&I Ltd (TT Club), the world's largest marine mutual insurer, aims to increase awareness, identifying some of the most frequent causes of cargo claims and suggesting ways in which you can avoid them.
A minimal amount of time could save you a lot of expense in the long run.
  • Choosing the Right Container
  • Containers come in several types, lengths, widths and heights. Match this to your requirements.
  • Do not pick a container that when loaded exceeds the size or weight limit at any stage of the journey.
  • Do not overlook climatic changes along the route that could affect your cargo. Choose a container type that is appropriate. It is often false economy to avoid the additional cost of a container with a fan, temperature control or ventilation.
  • Temperatures can increase inside a container e.g. a tropical climate can produce temperatures of 50 degrees plus which in turn causes condensation and roasting.
  • Ensure the container has enough lashing points of the strength you require.
  • Confirm your requirements in writing to the container operator.
  • Draw on the experience of the container operator.
Remember the responsibility of choosing equipment is not down to the container operator. The onus is on you!
  • Checking Your Container
  • For peace of mind take a few minutes to check over the container.
  • Be wary of residues - they could be hazardous. If in any doubt return the container for cleaning.
  • Note - It is advisable not to smoke in the vicinity as there maybe flammable liquids or vapors present.
  • Watch out for structural damage such as damage to post rails or corner castings. This can cause damage to cargo. If in doubt reject the container.
  • Check that you can securely lock the doors. If not reject the container.
  • Did you know that 1 in 5 cargo claims is due to wet damage. Always check that the container is dry. Are there any holes made by handling equipment that could let in moisture.
  • Ensure that the gaskets aren't hard, damaged or warn.
  • Look out for stains around the door area as this can indicate a previous leak.
  • Check for rust. Note that rust is porous.
  • Watch out for leftovers from previous consignments as these may contaminate your consignment.
  • Look out for taped up vents and old labels as these can be misleading and lead to delays.
  • Do a light test which can reveal small holes in the container.
Take delivery of your container with care!
Just a few minutes of your time can reduce the chance of your cargo being damaged.
If you overlook defects which a court decides due diligence would have revealed you may find an insurance claim is drastically reduced or even rejected.
  • Packing Plan
  • Most operators charge by the container load. The more goods you can fit into the container the lower the unit price will be to ship your goods. It is wise to draw up a packing plan to maximize the fill factor.
  • Remember less free space in the container mean less risk of cargo shifting.
  • Weight must be evenly spread; side to side, end to end.
  • Always keep the centre of gravity as low as possible.
  • Never exceed the containers maximum pay load or exceed any of the weight restrictions on route.
  • If cargo doesn't fill the container, start by covering the floor space at an even height.
  • If you have to leave gaps try and leave them in the centre so that the cargo can be secured by wedging them to the side walls.
  • If the upper tier doesn't run the full length of the container a vertical separator can be used to restrain it.
  • If suitable use an interlocking stow.
  • Unitized cargo is often more stable and quicker to pack.
  • Make a point of strongly shoring and blocking the face of the stow as this prevents the cargo from falling out when the doors are open.
  • Place the heaviest items in the centre of the container.
  • Place large heavy items on the bottom of the container and lighter ones on the top.
  • Always place liquids underneath dry goods.
  • Ensure drums and barrels are stowed with the bung upwards and if possible separated as vibration can wear away the seams and allow the contents to escape. It is best to use a double layer of dunnage to limit damage.
  • Ensure you are aware of the safe loading limits of the lashing points.
  • Do not pack cargoes that are incompatible together e.g. cargoes that are prone to sweating packed with moisture sensitive cargo.
  • Goods that are subject to Pre-Shipment Inspection (PSI) should be stored at the door end.
  • Some destination countries want a packing list fixed to the inside of the container door. Some destination countries require wood treatment certificates attached here too.
  • Declare the cargo weight accurately.
Shifting cargo and uneven weight distribution are one of the most common cause of cargo damage.
  • Packaging Goods
  • The forces exerted on a containers contents in transit by road, rail, ship or gantry crane are considerable. If the contents are not properly secure, no matter how heavy, damage will occur.
  • Most shippers tend to undercut a cost by not packaging their goods properly which often leads to crushed, unsalable goods. Appropriate packaging should be used to protect your investment.
  • Remember free space in a container increases the risk of cargo shifting. Packaging that fits in exactly (i.e. cardboard boxes) will reduce dead space and reduce the cost of dunnage. All loose items must be chocked / lashed.
  • Stretch or shrink wrap is great for protection against wet damage. It's not cheap but could save you money in the long run.
  • Use dunnage to protect non unitized cargoes from damage.
  • Dunnage: Materials of various types, often timber or matting, placed among the cargo for separation, and hence protection from damage, for ventilation and, in the case of certain cargoes, to provide a space in which the tynes (forks) of a forklift truck may be inserted.
  • Ensure that dunnage is not wet or made from unseasoned wood as this may cause condensation and damage. Be careful to check the quarantine regulations in the port of destination as they may require the dunnage to be treated or fumigated.
  • Airbags are a modern method which is easy to use than conventional shoring. Remember not to place them where they can force open the doors.
  • Security
  • No seal can stop a thief. Its main function is to signal where and when a container has been broken into.
  • Bolt seals are the best.
  • Always check the seal and ensure it is the right type.
  • Always record the date and the seal number and keep these records safe.
  • Never leave the sealing of a container to a third party. Who knows how honest they are?
  • Tug the seal to ensure that it is properly locked.
  • Enter the seal number on all shipping documentation and lock the papers somewhere safe.
  • Arrange a convenient time for your cargo to be delivered as this reduces the time the container is exposed to the elements and the risk of theft.
  • Safety and Unpacking
  • Do not overlook what type of equipment the consignee has for unloading the container.
  • Always look at all external notices/labels before you open the container.
  • If the contents is hazardous and appears to be leaking you should evacuate the area immediately.
  • If the container is exceptionally hot move it to a safe place and call the fire service.
  • If gas is present let it dissipate before entering the container.
  • Always document the external appearance of the container. Are there any dents, holes, rust....
  • Inspect the internal contents of the container for damage and document any found.
  • It is always best to take photographs where possible as this could assist any claims.
  • Always check the seal is the right type and that the serial number agrees with the documentation. Has the seal been tampered with?
  • Always keep both parts of the seal until you have checked that all the cargo is present and correct.
  • Safety goggles and overalls should be worn.
  • A useful idea is to use a strap tied round the door stanchions. This will prevent the doors from swinging open and goods falling on you. Once you know you are safe you can remove the strap and open the container fully.
  • Doors can easily cause damage if the wind slams them open or closed.
  • It is the consignee’s responsibility to clean the container to a level that you would wish to receive it.
  • Onus on the Shipping Line
  • Officers are always on deck supervising local stevedores who are not familiar with the vessels.
  • Lifting and lashing equipment is regularly examined to ensure that it is in good working order, to manufacturer’s guidelines. All damaged equipment is removed immediately. Spares are always carried on board.
  • A stowage planner is only as good as the data he receives. We ensure that stack and weight limits and complete stowage position plans are made available for the crew. This ensures that container racking limits are not exceeded, hatch covers and tank tops are not overstressed and stows are safe and secure. Staff routinely monitor the stow throughout the voyage.
  • A SOLAS cargo securing manual (UN regulatory publication - 'Safety of life at sea') is present on all our vessels and is kept up to date incorporating the most recent stowage methods.
  • A thorough examination of all stowage methods are made prior to sailing such as checking twist locks, galvanized rods, securing points and base sockets.
  • Dangerous goods are segregated as per the IMDG code, national legislation and the ships dangerous goods document of compliance. Hazardous goods are always checked once loaded to ensure it is safely stowed and there are no leaks.
  • Reefer containers are stowed only where they can be connected to electricity power supplies. All reefers are set to the temperatures as specified by the shipper and staff makes systematic checks throughout the voyage.
  • Non containerized cargo is given a protective stow.
  • Stack weight limits are not exceeded.
  • Heavy containers are stowed in tiers so that late arrivals which are heavy do not end up on deck or on top of the stack.
  • If an accident/damage does occur it is recorded immediately.
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