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Box majors clamp down on cargo misdeclaration

Big name box carriers including Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd, HMM and OOCL have introduced fines for shippers who misdeclare hazardous cargoes, which many people suspect are behind a number of containership fires in recent months

‘To ensure the safety of our crew, ships and other cargo onboard, Hapag-Lloyd holds the shipper liable and responsible for all costs and consequences related to violations, fines, damages, incidents, claims and corrective measures resulting from cases of undeclared or misdeclared cargoes,’ German carrier tells shippers

BIG name box carriers including Maersk Line, Hapag-Lloyd, Hyundai Merchant Marine and OOCL are cracking down on the misdeclaration of hazardous cargoes, which many people suspect are behind a number of containership fires in recent months.

The spate of blazes has caused not only loss of life, but also significant extra costs and delays to cargo deliveries.

According to the Cargo Incident Notification System, anything up to a quarter of all serious incidents on board containerships are attributable to misdeclared cargo.

Counter-measures imposed by lines include the introduction of fines for shippers and the strengthening of inspection procedures.

Hapag-Lloyd has instituted a penalty of $15,000 per box for misdeclared cargoes emanating from China, effective from September 15.

The German company saw a fire on board Yantian Express earlier this year, which took weeks to extinguish and is thought to have cost millions of dollars.

“Failure to properly offer and declare hazardous cargoes prior to shipment is a violation of the Hazardous Material Regulations. Such violations may be subject to monetary fines and/or criminal prosecution under applicable law,” the German outfit underlined in a notice to customers.

“To ensure the safety of our crew, ships and other cargo on board, Hapag-Lloyd holds the shipper liable and responsible for all costs and consequences related to violations, fines, damages, incidents, claims and corrective measures resulting from cases of undeclared or misdeclared cargoes.”

South Korea’s HMM has also brought in penalties at the same rate, while Hong Kong’s COSCO-owned OOCL is introducing fines of unspecified amounts, according to media reports.

Niels Gunner Schermer, head of centre operations dangerous goods at Maersk, said: “In general, we are very happy to see the actions of all major carriers to support safety for crews and vessels.

“Imposing a misdeclaration fee is one of the many instruments we have to increase safety and avoid misdeclarations, and one we are already using. While it should be used when required, as it represents a strong signal value, it remains a reactive measure,” he added.

Maersk strongly believes in increasing cargo screening and knowledge sharing efforts with customers, to ensure that the cargoes mis- or undeclared are avoided from the outset, said Mr Schermer.

Where there is resort to financial penalty, fines are assessed on a case-by-case basis, depending on the seriousness of the infraction.

The stance has been welcomed by specialist insurer TT Club, which is working with industry stakeholders under the banners ‘Cargo Integrity’ and #Fit4Freight to highlight the ongoing risks from poorly packed and declared cargo.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox, TT Club’s risk management director, commented: “Clearly, the shipper has primary responsibility to declare fully and honestly so that carriers are able to take appropriate actions to achieve safe transport.

“Equally, carriers have the opportunity to review any barriers to accurate shipment declaration, including minimising any unnecessary restrictions and surcharges. Penalising shippers where deficiencies are found should be applauded.”

Government enforcement agencies should also be encouraged to take appropriate action under national or international regulations to deter poor practices, Mr Storrs-Fox added.

TT Club’s Cargo Integrity campaign seeks not only to promote awareness of good practice, as set out in the  Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units, a joint International Maritime Organization/International Labour Organisation/United Nations Economic Commission for Europe instrument colloquially known as the CTU Code.

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