• Container weights at shipment


    There have been instances where coffee containers have arrived at destination severely underweight or even totally empty, with all seals etc intact. Strange as this may seem it is nevertheless fact and seeing that theft whilst on board ship seems rather unlikely, this raises the obvious question: who, if anyone, checks container weights at the time of loading on board vessel?

    What happens at present?

    • 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.

    So far the conclusion has therefore been that checking container weights during loading is not a viable proposition unless someone is prepared to incur, possibly substantial, costs.

    However, in recent years evidence has come to light of shippers overloading and misdeclaring container weights (probably not coffee containers) to the point where vessel security becomes compromised as evidenced by a number of incidents at sea and in port. In December 2010 the World Shipping Council – www.worldshipping.org - therefore asked the International Maritime Organisation - www.imo.org - to establish an international legal requirement that all export containers must weighed before they are loaded.

    Weighing containers is by itself not difficult - the issue is how to avoid interrupting the regular flow so as not to interfere with yard, port and ship operations. This may mean changes in the way containers are brought into the port or container yard, or how they are handled there. One potential way is to fit mobile container positioning equipment with weight indicators and to record the results with ‘exceptions’ being directed away from the regular flow*. Another would be for accredited third party verifiers to provide accurate container weights before entry into port or yard.

    Whatever the case may be, as and when it materializes the weighing of loaded containers immediately ahead of shipment should be an added security advantage to coffee shippers and receivers alike.

    * For general cargo handling and shipping news visit http://www.cargosystems.net/freightpubs/cs/index.htm or http://www.ifw-net.com/freightpubs/ifw/index.htm


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