Container inspections reveal misdeclared cargo, poor stowage

A survey of 500 containers by the US-based National Cargo Bureau (NCB) has found problems in 55% of containers, reports US publication Freightwaves.

Inspections of ocean shipping containers conducted by the NCB discovered that a large number of containers had misdeclared and/or improperly packaged cargo.

Not-for-profit surveying organization NCB – which normally inspects export containers leaving the U.S. – offered to undertake free inspections of a sample of containers, including imports, for members of the Cargo Incident Notification System (CINS).

CINS has 17 members, which control more than 60% of containerized cargo capacity.

Maersk and subsidiary Hamburg Süd, Hapag-Lloyd and CMA CGM agreed to participate in the programme. Among the four companies 500 containers were inspected by NCB.

NCB president Ian Lennard said that a mixture of containers carrying dangerous goods and general cargo, both imports and exports from the US, were examined. Each of the four companies had a different method for targeting which containers they wanted inspected.

NCB inspects about 31,000 dangerous goods containers leaving US ports annually for container carriers, ensuring that cargo being loaded on their ships is safe, but it does not normally inspect containers arriving at US ports.

Of the 500 containers inspected, 55% failed with one or more deficiencies; 49% of the import containers containing dangerous goods failed; and 38% of containers with dangerous goods exports failed.

Of the import containers with dangerous goods, 44% had problems with the way cargo was secured, 39% had improper placarding and 8% had misdeclared cargo. Of the export containers with dangerous goods, 25% had securing issues, 15% were improperly placarded and 5% were misdeclared.

Lennard noted that some of the misdeclarations did not present safety issues.

Among non-dangerous containers NCB detected improperly secured cargo.

While there might be some dangerous goods being transported as general cargo,

Last year only 7.4% of the export containers that NCB inspected resulted in failed inspections. Many of the targeted import containers with problems originated in the Far East, while others were from South America.

The inspections will be discussed at the UN’s International Maritime Organization’s Subcommittee on Carriage of Cargo and Containers when they are presented in a paper by the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association (ICHCA). A document submitted to the IMO by ICHCA, the World Shipping Council and several other organizations on July 5 in preparation for the forthcoming meeting noted that “the increasing number of casualties related to container fires during the past years suggests that the problem is exacerbating,” despite provisions in the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code and other carrier initiatives to identify undeclared and misdeclared dangerous cargo being tendered for carriage.

Lennard said that, in addition to more inspections, there needed to be greater use of automation when selecting which containers to inspect. “You can’t inspect every container. It would be too costly and bring everything to a halt. There are just too many containers being shipped. Just opening random containers is not as efficient. The Coast Guard does both random and targeted inspections and there should be some component of each”, said Lennard.