The need for safe transportation of goods cannot be overemphasised..
You might have seen ships with the SAFETY FIRST phrase emblazoned across the accommodation on the ship..
When we speak about safety especially in container shipping, one of the main items that needs to be considered is the safety aspect of using the shipping container as a Cargo Transporting Unit (CTU)..
Below is a recap of the most commonly used containers currently (hover over the image to see the size/type description)..
All these containers have been designed with specific purposes and specific cargoes in mind..
Physically, a shipping container is made up of various structural components that all work together to form a rigid rectangular structure..
If you look at the anatomy of a shipping container, the main structural components are :
- Side Walls
- Cross Members
- Top/Bottom Rails, and
- Corner Posts
All of these components transfer weight and racking forces when a box is shipped full or empty and be it at sea or on a trailer at the back of a truck being transported around..
The primary requirement of a shipping container in terms of carriage of goods is that it should be air and watertight and seaworthy with a sound structure..
The custodian of this safety requirement is CSC – International Convention for Safe Containers which is a convention for container safety adopted in 1972 with 2 primary goals
- To maintain a high level of safety of human life in the transport and handling of containers.
- To facilitate the international transport of containers by providing uniform international safety regulations.
How can we ensure the safety of the shipping container..??
Safety of the shipping container can be ensured through testing and inspection..
As per CSC guidelines, containers need to be tested, inspected and approved at regular intervals by authorised organizations such as Classification Societies to ensure that they conform to the minimum safety control standards for use in international transport..
While normally, it is the responsibility of the owners of the shipping containers, mainly shipping lines or container leasecos, to ensure that the containers are maintained as per the requirements, practically, such maintenance may be carried out the operator/user of the container which could be shipping lines or NVOCCs..
The confirmation of the testing, inspection and approval of the container is etched on a safety approval plate called the CSC plate which should be fitted on every container that is used for international transportation as a mandatory requirement by the CSC..
If you look at the image below, the CSC plate is visible on the left door of the container..
As per requirements of the BIC, “The words CSC SAFETY APPROVAL, of a minimum letter height of 8 mm, and all other words and numbers of a minimum height of 5 mm shall be stamped into, embossed on or indicated on the surface of the plate in any other permanent and legible way.
All characters shall be of proportionate width and thickness, they shall be durable and in a colour contrasting with that of the container.”
The CSC plate should also show the container’s maximum weight-carrying capability (usually referred to as “Payload” or “max net mass”) in both kilograms and pounds, along with the stacking and racking test load value as can be seen in an example below..
In the above example, if a container has been loaded more than the allowed weight of 32,500 kgs including the tare weight of the container, the container will be considered as OVER WEIGHT..
It is important to remember that the the CSC plate is only valid as long as the container is in good seaworthy condition and capable of carrying cargo..
If a container is damaged in service and is no longer safe to be used as a CTU, it is incumbent upon the owner of the container to take it out of service for the safety of all concerned and avoid cargo damage..
The CSC plate provides the various information such as the date, month and year of manufacture of the container, details of the Owners, Technical Data, and information about CSC inspection programs..
Which brings us to inspection regimes..
What are the inspection regimes for containers..??
CSC offers 2 inspection programs or regimes for containers..
1. ACEP is the abbreviation for, Approved Continuous Examination Programme which is one of the 2 inspection programs required as per the CSC..
Containers inspected under the ACEP must reflect the inspection program number on the CSC plate and a container with the ACEP information on the CSC plate means that the container has been inspected and examined every time there has been a change to the structural integrity of the container such as repairs done to it..
Since 2010, it has become mandatory that the ACEP programs must be reviewed not later than ten years after the date of delivery and therefore reviewed every ten years..
2. PES or Periodic Examination Scheme is the 2nd of the programmes in which every container is required to be examined by a qualified surveyor on a regular interval..
In PES, the first examination must take place within five years of the date of manufacture and subsequent surveys should be carried out every 30 months and the survey reports must be maintained on file..
Whether a container owner/operator uses ACEP or PES depends mainly on how the container fleet is operated by them.. Owners/operators who are able to prove that their operating procedures meets the CSC’s requirements the ACEP may be better suited than PES and for other smaller players, ACEP may not be the right choice..
Along with the CSC plate, there are also other plates/certifications that may be required for the containers to be used in international trade like the Customs Plate and Timber treatment (for the floorboard) certification.. These days, such certifications is included into the CSC Plate and this is called a Combined Data Plate as shown in below example..