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Today is Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Container Malpractice

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From many accounts the declared weight of containers being under declared by shippers, so much so that for many it is a common practice. In the Safe Transport of Containers by Sea – Guidelines on Best Practices produced by the World Shipping Council (WSC) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) the practice of under declaration is robustly frowned on and opined that the party stuffing the container is responsible for declaration of the correct weight on the accompanying shipping papers and that terminal operators should validate the declared weight of containers before they are loaded. 

Why does this situation exist? Honesty is not the name of the game and fall guys get the blame. Why do shippers under declare? It is simply because they get away seizing the opportunity to money by overloading one box instead of using two. This makes their actions deliberate and for profit. Other deliberate and nefarious practices for the same motive include, improper securing of cargo inside the container and improper declaration and marking of hazardous substances – both of which are again money savers. 

But, shippers are not alone. Ports and terminals do not fulfill their obligations by checking container weights, again to save money.  Mind you, this is also at the risk of damage to their own facility and hence business infrastructure. Perhaps their fear is that if they did so, they would lose business as sinful shippers would switch facilities continuing to condone known unsafe working practices. Would you bet on ports and terminals implementing change for good under their own ISO processes, or waiting for legislation to make it happen? 
What of manufacturers and retailers? 
Do they do anything to ensure the shippers strictly adhere to safe working practices?
Why do vessel owners, operators and charterers turn a blind eye? You can guess the answer. With a vessel on the berth and containers ready for loading they are they lesser culprits? Some may think so. But, they do have the capability to pressure ports into ensuring safe working practices to protect from harm those in whom they entrust the safe carriage of the freight from which they gain profit. 

Caught in this web of deception and double standards are innocent parties trapped in the craving need for greed and increased profits. First in the line is the truck driver who is presented with a stuffed and sealed container. How can he tell if it is overloaded, contains hazardous materials or if the contents of the box have been properly secured? He may get an idea about the weight once on the road by his truck’s performance under acceleration or braking. If he gets pulled over for a spot weighbridge check he will definitely know and be penalized for it. Have haulage contractors not a moral duty to protect their employees from breaking the law? Their trucks and trailers, suffer excess wear thus incurring more maintenance costs and down time, not to mention higher fuel consumption.

Overweight containers can and do cause incidents at sea the nature of which is a game of chance and circumstance that varies from stack collapse to being lost overboard and causing a vessel to list when filled with unsecured cargo. Such happenings pose risks to life and limb, safe navigation of vessels and to the environment, all well known to the maritime industry.

Imagine a vessel with overweight containers in the outside rows and near the top of stack proceeding in heavy weather and rolling heavily causing the insecure cargo in them to shift resulting in mechanical failure lashings. Boxes crash into the confused sea and rupture bunker tanks. The unwitting seafarer can find himself detained without trial before being criminally prosecuted and because the odds are stacked against him serve a prison sentence. But what of the shipper who brazenly overloaded the containers? If it was possible and the authorities bothered to bring charges against him, he would have his day in court and it would be most unlikely for him to lose his liberty.

The solution lies in each container being weighed as it enters the port area and any overweight container taken to a holding area to be lightened by the original shipper who could then afterwards be heavily duly fined. The overloading unsafe acts would cease immediately leaving improper securing and declaration to be dealt with. For this, an arrival inspection and resealing within the port area should also see an end to these matters.

The IMO has declared 2010 YEAR OF THE SEAFARER – let it not only be lip service by those that can make a difference.

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