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HomeHazardous Goods33% of hazardous cargo misdeclarations are willful

33% of hazardous cargo misdeclarations are willful

The meaning of Declare (verb) is

  • to make known or state clearly, especially in explicit or formal terms;
  • to announce officially; proclaim;
  • to state emphatically;
  • to manifest; reveal; show;

When none of the above happens, it is termed as “to misdeclare” or “misdeclaration“..


Misdeclaration is nothing new to shipping and has been continuing for years especially in containerised shipments due to various reasons like escaping customs duties and taxes, hide the value of the cargo, to hide the illegal nature of the cargo or not following the proper processes out of plain old stupidity and/or laziness..

Apart from the loss of millions of dollars worth of goods and assets, such misdeclarations also result in maritime disasters which have a huge impact on the environment and the loss of life (human or otherwise)..

There are enough examples of the consequences of misdeclaration both in misdeclaration in weight and/or misdeclaration of hazardous content..

Some of the real life incidents linked to the carriage, storage, misdeclaration of dangerous goods and/or non-adherence to dangerous goods regulations are

The TT Club recently shared information on how “Ship fires often start ashore” where they mention some facts one of which is that

33% of hazardous cargo misdeclarations are willful……………

Let’s take a moment to digest this number..

I don’t think there is any other industry where such blatant actions can happen and not much punitive measures are taken against the culprits..

Coincidentally, in a dangerous goods misdeclaration survey done by Shashi Kallada of IMDG Code Compliance Centre in 2020, he also got a figure of 33.10% as willful default with some interesting reasons for what promotes willful default and how shippers misdeclare hazardous goods..


Here are some tips you can take to avoid misdeclaration (wittingly or unwittingly) of hazardous goods

First and foremost BUY the IMDG Code..

The IMDG Code bookIMDG Code or International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code published by the IMO has set the principles for the transport of dangerous goods by sea since 1965 and is intended to protect crew members and to prevent marine pollution by hazardous materials..

The implementation of the Code is mandatory in conjunction with the obligations of the members of United Nations Government under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 73/78)..

The code contains advice on terminology, packaging, labelling, placarding, markings, stowage, segregation, handling, and emergency response in relation to carrying dangerous goods by sea..

The IMDG code is updated and amended every 2 years and the 40th amendment of the IMDG Code 40-20 will come into force on 1 June 2022 for two years but may be applied voluntarily from 1st January 2021..

The IMDG Code has all the information you require for the safe handling and shipment of your hazardous or dangerous goods..


KNOW what you are shipping or carrying

When we say dangerous goods or hazardous cargo, first thing that comes to mind of many people would be explosives, acids, poisons or nuclear waste etc..

But there are many articles or substances in our homes that should be considered as “dangerous goods” especially when it comes to the question of transporting it..

All materials or items with hazardous properties can be considered to be Dangerous goods or Hazardous Goods.. If these goods are not properly controlled, especially during transportation it can present a potential hazard to the health and safety of all living beings, the environment and material assets..

Dangerous goods comes in many forms such as solids, liquids or gases and can be hot or cold,  pungent or odourless, transparent or coloured and their hazardous effects can be anything from minimal to fatal..

They may be pure chemicals or mixtures of substances, manufactured products or individual articles on their own..

Some hazardous effects of these goods can include acidic / caustic burning of skin tissue, the emission of flammable and/or toxic fumes, some products can be corrosive to metals and other materials, others can be explosive by nature or when exposed to sources of heat..

Certain goods can be harmful to the environment if not contained properly and others can react dangerously to water..


hazardous goods misdeclaration - shipping and freight resourceLet’s say the customer wants to ship this.. Nail Polish : day to day product present in almost all households and should be harmless for shipment.. Right..??

Wrong.. The Finished Product Name given by the client in the trade documentation could be Cover Girl Continuous Color Nail Polish..

There have been cases where the staff in the shipping line’s office ship this without realising that common Chemicals present in Nail Polish are Ethyl Acetate, Butyl Acetate, Nitrocellulose, Tosylamide/Epoxy Resin, Isopropyl Alcohol, Acetyl Tributyl Citrate, Sucrose Benzoate, Benzophenone-3, Trimethylpentanediyl Dibenzoate, Polyvinyl Butyral some of which are classified as hazardous..

Nail polish is therefore classified as hazardous goods under IMDG Code Class 3, UN 1266, PG II..


Or let’s say customer wants to ship HTH.. Your normal pool cleaner that you use in your pool, you swim in it.. So it should be a breeze to ship, right..??

Wrong.. You need to be aware of what HTH is.. DON’T TAKE THE CARGO NAME AT FACE VALUE.. HTH contains Calcium Hypochlorite which has been identified as the reason for many ship fires and many carriers have banned the carriage of this product on their ships..

In 2019, Calcium Hypochlorite was identified as a possible suspect in the fire on board the KMTC Hong Kong..

Now imagine this undeclared hazardous cargo was sitting under deck of the ship in the stow position (identified in red).. Imagine the consequences for the whole ship..

hazardous goods misdeclaration - shipping and freight resource


Get your hazardous documentation right


If you are the shipper, you need to know what you are shipping, and not just you, but EVERYONE in the supply chain needs to know what you are shipping..

Your transporter, your freight forwarder, your clearing agent, your NVOCC, your surveyor, your shipping line, your port and customs, your packing warehouse, EVERYONE..

There has to be a valid and correct MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) that needs to be given for each hazardous cargo that you ship..

An MSDS provides guidance in handling the commodity and the properties and composition of the item in question and is of vital importance to any Hazardous desk of any shipping line for them to consider accepting this cargo for loading on their ships and for proper stowage planning..


Dangerous goods application and Declaration

Based on the information available in the MSDS and the other shipment details such as container number, size/type and other shipping related information, the dangerous goods application and declaration must be filled up correctly and accurately..

Shashi Kallada has written an in-depth article on How to fill a Dangerous Goods Declaration which clearly outlines the requirements and highlights the need for this important document, because in maritime transport the decision to place a container on a specific location on board vessel is purely taken from the information provided in Dangerous Goods Declaration..

Majority of the stakeholders involved in the shipment of hazardous containers do not physically see the packages or containers with its labels, marks, or placards to make any decision to accept to load or where to place it – whether on deck or under deck or the segregation from other containers..

Probably only 2 parties in the entire chain which involves many stakeholders have seen the goods – the shipper and the packing warehouse.. Crazy, isn’t it..??

Therefore it is imperative that this dangerous goods declaration is filled correctly..


Label your hazardous cargo correctly

dangerous goods declarationHazardous goods which are correctly classified and identified with proper shipping name and appropriately packed but not consigned as per part 5 of IMDG Code will fail to meet the objective of IMDG Code, “enhance the safe carriage of dangerous goods while facilitating the free unrestricted movement of such goods and prevent pollution to the environment“..

Part 5 of IMDG Code starts with the two most important aspects of consignment procedures

  1. No one must offer dangerous goods for transport unless the goods are marked, labelled, placarded and documented according to part 5 of IMDG Code, and
  2. A Carrier must not accept dangerous goods unless a copy of dangerous goods declaration is provided

As mentioned above, as many of the stakeholders do not have visibility of what is inside a dangerous goods container, the label on the outside is one of the best options for them to know what is inside the container and take necessary precautions..



Gatvol (ˈxʌtˌfɒl) is a commonly used South African term meaning “fed up” or “I have had it up to here”.. This seems to be the mood with many of the shipping lines as they announced hefty fines for misdeclaration of hazardous goods..

Lines including Evergreen, Maersk Line, Hapag-Lloyd, Hyundai Merchant Marine and OOCL have announced that they will implement fines to the tune of several thousands of dollars for dangerous goods misdeclaration..

Lines are imposing penalties of up to USD15,000 per container for misdeclaration of hazardous goods..

About time I would say..!!

For far too long, shipping lines, ship owners, exporters, importers and more importantly the ships crew have been facing loss of lives, loss of cargo, loss of revenue, loss of trade, loss of time all because some unscrupulous or ignorant shippers fail to follow dangerous goods regulations resulting in misdeclaration of dangerous goods..

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Hariesh Manaadiar
Hariesh Manaadiar
I am Hariesh Manaadiar, the Founder of Shipping and Freight Resource.. I have been in the dynamic shipping and freight industry for over three decades and have worked in several sectors.. I share my experiences and knowledge of the industry through this blog for those looking for help in the industry.. Stay subscribed for more free useful content about shipping, freight, maritime, logistics, supply chain and trade..


  1. Dear Hariesh,

    Good article, Thank you. In case of exwks shipment & misdeclaring of haz nature of cargo, who is responsible party for any damages occurring as a result of incorrect declaration?

  2. The (M)SDS isn’t a mandatory document during the transport of dangerous goods but always a good pratique… The only reference to the use of SDS on IMDG Code is on “5.4.3 Documentation required aboard the ship” as an alternative for “emergency response information” (but can be replaced by other options as EmS). Further, despite the dissemination os GHS principles, SDS is not a harmonized requirement and only applies to substances, mistures and some articles (but some products can be exempted).

  3. Forwarders agents assigned to handle Hazardous materials must be licensed and well trained for the job.
    Hazardous shipments must be :
    1-Properly packed, ;labeled, documented, by a licensed authority with the Shipper’s dangerous goods declaration , safety data sheet shipper’s invoice & packing list

    2- To obtain prior clearance from the Carrier and country of destination
    3- All the above requirements must be obtained before accepting the goods from the supplier.


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