• Container seals


    Apart from locks, the first defense against tampering are the numbered seals the shipping company provides to seal a container's doors. If a seal is broken or damaged then it may well be that the container has been tampered with. But instances have been recorded where traditional seals have been broken and replaced without any visible sign of this having occurred. Because of this some exporters add locks of their own to physically secure container doors.

    Containers and their seals must also be physically checked each time a container changes hands, for example from origin terminal to ship, from ship to arrival terminal, from arrival terminal to truck, and from truck to roasting plant. Ideally, each time a Container Interchange Receipt should be established that records the seal's condition, the seal number, and the exterior condition of the container itself. Should there be something wrong with any of these then the receipt trail could show under whose responsibility this happened, in turn enabling a claim to be lodged if necessary. The last check takes place just before the container will be opened. Shipping lines also use these receipts to claim redress for any physical damage to the actual container itself.

    Security of containers is not just to protect the coffee. In recent years, illegal drugs have also been found in coffee containers (as a result of port to port conspiracies, unconnected with the coffee trade). The international coffee trade and the shipping community are actively working with customs authorities worldwide to help stop the use of coffee shipments as a vehicle for illegal drugs. Obviously, container seals are the first line of defence in this battle.

    Modern seals incorporate increasingly sophisticated technology that makes undetected tampering much more difficult. But physical verification is still required. Seals by themselves cannot prevent containers being opened - they are not a deterrent but rather a means of verification. Even so, seals are no better than the person who places them. If that person cannot be trusted then one cannot be sure the seal was really placed at all, i.e. that it was not faked. It is not for this website to explain different ways in which the placing of seals has previously been faked. Instead, one solution is to use clear seals that show the mechanism, with the number printed on the inside under a clear elevation that works as a magnifying glass.

    In the end even intact seals prove only that the cargo seems not to have been interfered with after the seals were affixed. Bulk containers have been known to be attacked by forcing a pipe through the rubber door seals and into the liner, after which coffee is simply siphoned out. This is easily prevented by placing a plank upright on the floor inside and in front of the doors before shutting them. However, there have also been instances where containerized cargo has disappeared during inland transit to port, yet doors and seals were perceived as intact. Where this occurs with any regularity shippers really only have one option: invest in security measures such as having trucks travel in escorted convoys, only allowing night stops in authorized locations, etc.

    If a container's seal and seal number are sound and correct on arrival of an FCL shipment, but the condition or weight of the coffee is not, then the receiver will claim from the shipper/exporter, also if stuffing took place under supervision. When goods are shipped FCL, the responsibility lies with the person supplying them unless the bill of lading shows the container was accepted as sound but at destination it is delivered damaged. To repeat, the burden of proof always lies with the shipper

    For goods shipped on LCL basis shipping lines can be held responsible only for the number and the apparent good order and condition of the bags, Therefore, if on arrival the seal and seal number of a container shipped on LCL basis are sound and correct, but the condition or number of the bags is not, then the receiver will claim from the shipping line.

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