• QA 164
    Is it possible for empty containers to be loaded as normal? Are they not weighed?
    Recently we read that some twenty containers from Africa arrived empty in Europe! Believing that this kind of theft is impossible on board ship, how can one explain that these containers were probably already empty at the time of loading? Are they not weighed?
    Asked by:
    Insurance Agent - Côte d'Ivoire

    The statement you refer to was in respect of containers shipped from an inland point that had been filled and sealed at that inland point. The seals were said to be intact at the time of loading on board ship and at discharge at destination. Yet, the containers were found to be empty...

    Obviously we cannot speculate on how this may have occurred although we agree that the theft of entire container loads on board ship indeed seems unlikely. But in respect of your question whether container weights are checked during loading or not we can offer the following observations:

    • Containers arrive at ship's side for loading already locked and sealed. Therefore, all that is visible during loading are locked and sealed steel boxes.
    • Port container or gantry cranes do have a weight indicator but the operator, who is a third party, will not necessarily always observe this nor is he/she in a position to know what the weight of a particular container should be. Container weights vary according to the contents whereas sometimes even empty containers are carried for repositioning.
    • In theory it is possible to ask the port for a weighing slip but this means extra costs. It is also not really feasible to interrupt loading in case a variance were to be observed. Modern container vessels carry large numbers of containers and spend little time in port. Schedules are very strict and interruptions are unacceptable.
    • In some ports containers are loaded using ship's own gear (lifting equipment), for example if port equipment is in short supply. Such on-board equipment is not necessarily fitted with weight indicators.

    The realistic conclusion therefore has to be that checking container weights during loading is not a viable proposition unless someone is prepared to incur, possibly substantial, costs.  But even then, there have also been instances where the contents have been replaced with sand or dirt, rendering such an operation useless…

    Stuffing containers at distant inland points and sending them directly into the port for loading obviously saves both costs and time. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by this particular event and depending on circumstances, this can involve a certain amount of risk.  Inland shippers faced with such issues therefore have to determine how much risk is acceptable to them, and what additional security measures they can take, such as escorted convoys for example. Of course such measures unfortunately mean extra costs and these, usually, end up being borne by the growers by way of lower prices…

    Please see topic 05.01.08 as well as Q&A 058 and 061 for more on container issues and section 05.05 Insurance.

    Posted 06 September 2007.

    Related chapter(s):
    Related Q & A:
    Q&A 058, 061