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Seal number discrepancy between manifest and container – what to do..!!

  • Seal number discrepancies happen all the time
  • There are genuine reasons for the same or nefarious reasons
  • There are a few processes to follow if a seal discrepancy happens

There are cases where a container maybe discharged with a seal number that is different from what has been manifested and shown in the bill of lading..

Seal number discrepancy between manifest and container happens more times than you can imagine and this happens all over the world..

How and why does this seal number discrepancy happen and what steps should a consignee take when it happens..??

A seal number discrepancy can happen due to several reasons :

  1. Typo error when capturing manifest
  2. Improper capture due to confusion caused by similar seal number patterns (Seal number XYZ 123456 and 123456 could be two different seals..)
  3. Fraud committed by willful usage of similar number patterns (Seal number XYZ 123456 and 123456 could be two different seals..)
  4. Seal broken due to theft/pilferage and a new seal with a different number is now on the container
  5. Seal broken due to customs inspection and then resealed but manifest not amended

Whatever the reason for seal number discrepancy, there are a few standard actions that the consignee must take..

1.. Immediately advise the shipper of this discrepancy and check if there could have been any mistakes from their side with regards to the seal number they provided to the shipping line..

(Remember, while the shipping line may provide the seal in most cases, the shipper, their agent, their packing warehouse or their transporter (basically whoever is sealing the container finally) may not always use the same seal that has been given to them by the shipping line..

In most cases there is no cross verification of the seal numbers on the containers by the shipping line as the shipper is expected to use the seal that they have been given..

In some cases, the shipping line may not provide the seal and the shipper may be using their own seal and here again, their agent, their packing warehouse or their transporter (whoever is sealing the container finally) may not always use the same seal that has been given to them by the shipper whereas the shipper may have used this seal number on the shipping instruction they give to the shipping line..

So the shipper and shipping line will be under the impression that the seal number declared on the shipping instruction is the seal number on the container..)

2.. Advise the shipping line of this discrepancy and if point 1 above has been cleared with the shipper, then put the shipping line on notice for all costs, consequences, damages and claims as the seal number was correct when it was handed over to the shipping line at the port of load..

3.. Notify the shipping line of your intention to conduct a joint survey of the condition of the contents of the container in order to ascertain any issues such as damage or loss of goods..

4.. Notify your insurance company of potential loss of cargo or damage to cargo and follow their instructions.. As a consignee it is important that you know what to do when your cargo is damaged..

5.. Carry out a joint survey to ascertain and ensure that there is no pilferage, theft or loss of cargo..

On the other hand if you are a shipper, it is important that you know how to seal a container to avoid theft, pilferage due to your container being sealed incorrectly.. Such theft/pilferage may not be covered by your insurance because the container was sealed incorrectly..

Below are two methods of correctly sealing containers..

Image of container seals

In a post about Seal Reporting Requirements for Containerised Goods, Michael Poverello wrote

Supply chain security in the maritime environment is underpinned by the need for seal integrity and the movement of ‘containerised’ cargo requires physical validation of the ‘integrity’ of cargo from its point of dispatch to point of delivery at destination..

This is not wholly a customs requirement but at the same time one which any legitimate trader would expect in respect of the safe and secure transportation of his/her cargo..

For example, in South Africa, a great deal of importance is placed by SARS (South African Revenue Services(Customs)) on seal reporting requirements for containerised goods which you can read here..

Have you had any experience with regards to seal number discrepancy and how did you handle it..

Article reposted after some updates

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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. I had several discrepancies with regards to seal numbers. It was handle as follow.
    1) The shipping line was notify of the discrepancy and was ask for confirmation of seal number that the container was loaded with at POL.
    2) The shipper was also notify and was asked for confirmation of the seal number placed on the container at the loading warehouse.
    Confirmation was then given by the shipper that the incorrect seal number was documented in error.
    In order to amend the shipping documents and manifest with our local customs at the POD, a “change to read” must be done and approved by our local customs to enable the container to be cleared.
    The procedures of the “change to read” is as follow:
    1) A letter from the shipper addressed to our local customs at POD had to be done explaining how the error occurred, who made the error and accepting responsibility for the error.
    2) The local agent or SSL must also prepare a letter addressed to the customs at the POD explaining same and stating which party is responsible for the error.
    3) Copies for the shipper’s and agent/SSL letters are put together with copies of the B/L, discharged tally sheet or any other proof showing the correct seal number attached to the container in question.
    4) Once our local customs is satisfied with the reason given and there is no objections, the “change to read” will be approved and an approval fee is charged by our local customs for approving the document. This fee my cost about USD 50.00.
    5) After documents are approved and the changes are made in our local customs system, the consignee’s broker can now proceed and clear the container without any further delays.

  2. We have sent a reefer container with perishable goods from Tema, Ghana, with destination NY City USA.The shipping line didn’t provide for the container seal as usual. The forwarding got a seal but the numbers recorded got missing. The shipping line issue a BL without seal number and now is denying any commitment in to solve this problem and at destination the consignee broker is asking for demurrage and accessories costs without any consideration to this accident. What can we cando?

  3. Hi

    Do you know any official regulation about the penalty charges if any difference or missing seal?

    Waiting for your reply.


  4. Thank you for the informatio, but I still have one question. Does the CNEE will face some issues if the container has 5 seals, but the shipper declared by mistake only 4 seals on the Bill of Lading?

  5. Very nice information regarding the discrepancy of seal number. It is actually seen but still a lessor known fact for everyone. Thanks a lot! The reasons you have provided here are acceptable. Learned a lot from this. Surely others will also learn like I did!

  6. Thanks for the information provided in article. We have a recent incident in which container was handed over with proper customs carrier seals.. now when the container has reached destination, there has been theft reported by the agent. A new seal was put on container after the theft, as per our knowledge, once the customs seal has been put at ICD, port officials check the same before loading it in vessel.. So the theft happened after it reached destination or while in-transit on vessel? How can we investigate this.. Would appreciate if you could guide us, FYI- only electronics were stolen from the container, lashing was all broken, boxes were opened and damaged. This Container went from ICD Tuglakabad/ Mundra/Bremerhaven.

  7. very useful. I fell a victim once in 2010/10/18 when a cargo loaded from the USA to Ghana/Tema had a seal discrepancy with the contents tempered with. The said cargo went through a transit port where the seal was broken and some parcels of drugs added to the original contents. I spent 7 days with the narcotic control board and was only released after it was found from my written statements that I was not connected in anyway to the crime.

  8. You are to inform Customs ASAP!!!! You may have been used or still are being used as transporter of forbidden goods (eg drugs) in a rippoff-procedure. Not informing Customs immediately could have dire consequences.

  9. Normally the shipping liner will advise us either to amend the BL or the E-Manifest. And we prefer to amend the E-Manifest due to its amendment fee is far less than the OBL.

  10. Hello, Hariesh , good article on what to do with a seal discrepancy, but the photo you show in your article about where to place the seal in the right side door handles, is not best practice. The photo in your article shows the right side door’s lockrods, handles, and handle keepers, where it is indicated that the seal be placed.

    But if you look closely, there are also the cams and camkeepers at the bottom, with the left bottom lockrod cam and the camkeeper being a SecuraCam, where there is a seal hole in the cam and also in the camkeeper.

    Best practice calls for the seal, which needs to be a high security barrel and bolt device, to be placed in this position for a much better deterrent in the seal being broken. See Evergreen’s advice on this matter at: and Maersk’s at:

    Thanks for the fine articles you provide; always good reading and information.
    Jim Cobb, Marine Cargo Surveyor, Since 1983

  11. I myself had a problem with this, for a container to El Salvador. The naviera (local shipping agent) simply said “You must have made an error, please sign this amendment” to which I said “No way!” I had sealed the container personally in Canada. It took 3 days of screaming, phone calls and office visits to finally get a picture of the seal. I was immediately able to pick out the “CBSA” on the seal, which was a completely different color from the one I had used. The container underwent an inspection leaving Canada and Hapag didn’t mention this anywhere in the documentation. It took weeks of fighting to get them to pay the storage fees in the port in El Salvador.

    I still can’t believe they tried to get me to sign something saying I wrote the seal down wrong. If there had been drugs or smuggled goods added in transit, I would have been signed as responsible for them!

    • This article on seal integrity highlights the seriousness of the matter and is very useful for people in shipping lines as well as users like shipper, their agents, warehouse keepers and those who are responsible for affixing the seal on the container. The reasons have already discussed in an earlier post the most important of all is the Customs take a serious view of such discrepancy of seal number between the container and the documents specially the Bill of Lading that i reflected in the Cargo Manifest (Cargo declaration)

      The Customs mark such containers and can order a 100% inspection to ensure that there has been no malpractice. Earlier, we could get the manifest amended to show the correct seal number (the one on the container), later the Customs Authorities insisted a confirmation from the port of origin whenever such discrepancy was noticed as they gave a ‘benefit of doubt’ on clerical errors committed which of course involved checking with various operators/business entities who handled the container movement. But finally, when discrepancies went on unabated Customs insisted that the container be fully devanned and contents checked and verified for correctness.

      Rightly so because the Government could lose revenue or contraband goods could be moved or there could be a deliberate change of seal after a wilful act of defrauding the authorities. Therefore, extra care should be taken by all players in this movement to ensure credibility.

      The consequences of negligence is ranges from delays in clearing the consignment, cost escalating due to demurrage/detention charges incurring on the container and the cost of destuffing and restuffing for the purpose of Customs inspection/examination.

      The writer is a retired senior executive of a shipping line and worked as a Documentation Manager and Management Representative for ISO 9001 2008 in Chennai and has experienced several such incidents that has caused above all trauma of appearing before the concerned authorities in person.


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