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HomeEducationWhat is distressed cargo and when does it occur..??

What is distressed cargo and when does it occur..??

What is distressed cargo and when does it occur..??

As those in the shipping industry are aware and those who are new to the industry may be experiencing or those who are not in the industry may have realised, shipping and freight industry is a crucible of many different jargons, abbreviations and trite phrases to say the least.. 🙂

Here is one of them for you to chew on today..



Distressed CargoDistressed cargo is a term used more in bulk trades..

A cargo is termed distressed cargo for a few reasons :-

  • A buyer defaults on a contract due to a drop in commodity prices.. Say for example, if a buyer entered into a spot contract for the purchase of coal and after loading, if the commodity prices have fallen around $10/tonne, on a Capesize, a client could lose as much as $1.6 million. and rather than lose so much money due to this drop in price, the buyer defaults on the contract..
  • There are cases where a vessel maybe in distress (say engine failure or other forms of distress) and she maybe forced to call at a port other than the one she is scheduled to call.. In such cases where the safety of the cargo maybe compromised, it maybe necessary to off load the cargo at this way port till further arrangements can be made for an alternate ship..
  • When a seller or buyer has left it too late for execution of the trade under normal vessel and product scheduling time frames..
  • A ship is unable to offload a cargo at a specified port due to bad weather and have to sail from that port within a specified time frame to honour their other employments which means they have to classify the cargo as distressed cargo and try to get rid of it before they reach their next port..

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Such distressed cargo is generally sold to interested buyers at prices much lower than the original price of the commodity..

To avoid cases like buyers reneging on contracts, shippers need to safeguard against shipping and freight fraud such as insisting on the full price being paid in advance before loading of cargo commences etc..

Shippers should also ensure that they are suitably covered by insurance for such incidents.. Institute Cargo Clauses B & C cover discharge of cargo at a port of distress..

So is it the end for the distressed cargo whether off loaded or on board..??

Well it depends on the condition of the cargo.. Cargo interests will generally arrange experts who can survey the cargo for its condition and offer the best possible solution to the cargo owners, shipowners and the relevant insurance companies in order to try and maximize the value of the recoverable cargo..

This could also end up to be a costly affair as this salvage might require cargo repacking, cargo and ship cleaning, re-labelling, decontamination and safe and responsible disposal of Hazardous and Non-Hazardous cargo..

You can read a live case of Distressed Sugar Cargoes from Santos..

Apart from distressed cargo, there is also possibility of “distressed freight” which happens when a ship arrives at a berth to load cargo, only to find that the the cargo supplied by the shipper does not meet the expectation/specification of the owner’s or charterer’s..

Due to time constraints, the owner’s or charterer’s may not be able to secure enough cargo at the normal freight rates to fill the ship and may have to book cargo at very low rates also known as distress rates..

Have you had any experience with distressed cargo or freight..?? Do share if you do..

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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. A ship with a few containers laden with natural rubber with leakages due to condensation, worms and flies, the ship is refused berthing until all containers and vessel are fumigated to the satisfaction of the authorities. In this case is the ship distressed or cargo distressed?

    • Hi Vijay, neither.. The term distressed applies to cargo that cannot be sold at its original price or cannot be sold at all and needs to be disposed off.. In your case, there is a possibility that the ship can be accepted into port after it has been cleaned and fumigated so this term won’t apply..


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