Loading a shipping container- How it is done (PART 1)

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June 4, 2018




The process of loading a shipping container is long and tedious but it has to be done right every single time to avoid costly accidents. For every reliable freight forwarder, the successful shipment of your cargo is always the central goal.

Try as we may, there are certain challenges that are unavoidable such as those that are caused by unpredictable weather conditions. However, the simple truth is that a lot of accidents and damage tends to occur as a result of how poorly a shipping container has been loaded. As a matter of fact, losses from a shipping container that has been loaded improperly can amount to up to $5 billion dollars annually.

With the advent of large containerships with massive carrying capacities of over 20 TEU, that can also accommodate a large number of boxes, the risks and number of accidents have increased considerably. With over 1,700 containers lost each year across fleets, it is evident that the risk faced by carriers cannot be ignored.

At any one time, approximately twenty percent of containers are mis-declared because of issues related to loading a shipping container. While some accidents are unavoidable such as those caused by the ship’s movements in the seaway others, which are attributed to human mistakes, can be completely avoided by loading a shipping container as it should be.

Container accidents can be severe and can cause the loss of life, as well as the cargo on board. Furthermore, container accidents also impact the maritime environment negatively by polluting it with debris and other chemical or structural components as was evidenced the MSC Flaminia container accident, for instance.

The MSC Flaminia on fire in the North Atlantic in 2012

So what is the process of loading a shipping container?

The process of loading a shipping container is guided by the CTU Code, which outlines the guidelines for the loading of cargo transport units (CTUs).  The parties responsible for ensuring that a container has been loaded properly are the shipper/freight forwarder, as well as the individuals responsible for packing and stuffing the container (loading it).

Loading a shipping container

A container is usually loaded with cargo and delivered to the port for transportation by the trucking company or forwarder in a process that is known as drayage. There are different sizes of shipping containers but the most common are the 20 foot dry and 40-foot dry containers.

 20 ft and 40ft shipping containers

There are also specialty containers available that are designed to transport specific cargo such as liquid containers, refer or refrigerated containers for pharmaceuticals, and so on. Containers are usually stored or stacked at the port until the selected ship arrives to move them.

Pharmaceutical Container

Things to keep in mind when loading a shipping container

When loading a container, there are some things that you have to keep in mind to ensure the job is done properly such as:

Before loading cargo into a shipping container

Before any cargo can be loaded, it has to be checked to ensure that it is packed, labeled and marked correctly. The packaging must also be checked to make sure that it is not damaged before it is loaded into a shipping container and that any hazardous goods have been declared according to regulation.

The condition of the container

Before loading can be done, the right container for the job has to be selected depending on whether the cargo needs to be refrigerated, whether it requires special ventilation or dunnage, etc. The container also has to be checked for cleanliness, whether it is free of odors, fractured welds, leaks, whether it is weatherproof or if the door gaskets work and close tightly.

The freight forwarder also has to verify if the container has any signs of distortion; note that distorted containers are unlikely to fit as they should.

Aside from checking that the container is in good condition, the forwarder must also ascertain that the container can handle the required payload or weight distribution. If your freight forwarder fails to give your cargo the right start, it has very little probability or arriving safely or undamaged. CONTINUE TO PART 2.

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