A coalition of cargo industry organisations representing the full breadth of the global supply chain is maintaining its campaign for safer practices in packing freight containers and other cargo transport units (CTUs).

The group reiterated its request to IMO member states for the backing of their governments to communicate the content, to encourage, and oversee the use of the IMO/ILO/UNECE [1] Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units (CTU Code) within their jurisdictions. 

The four industry bodies, Global Shippers Forum (GSF), ICHCA International, TT Club and World Shipping Council (WSC) participated in the experts group that created the comprehensive guidance for safe and secure packing of CTUs and was thereafter adopted by each of the UN agencies during 2014. 

Chris Welsh, the secretary general of GSF, said: "Our coalition epitomises the depth of industry cooperation that exists in ensuring the safety of operatives across the supply chain and the security of cargo; now there is clearly a greater need for action by national governments to support these industry initiatives. In fact it is critical that governments play a role in effecting the more widespread use of the Code among those loading CTUs on a daily basis."

TT Club's risk management director, Peregrine Storrs-Fox pointed out the importance of this awareness and enforcement of the Code: "The maritime freight container, in particular, has diversified the responsibility for safe cargo packing away from the historic concentration of expertise at quaysides and docks. Those packing containers at factories, warehouses and depots situated remotely from the port, or indeed from a railhead or other intermodal hub, are generally unaware of the consequences of a poorly packed steel coil and unsecured drum of hazardous chemicals. As a specialist insurer, TT Club continually sees the sad repercussions of truck rollovers and train derailments, cargo spillages, and explosions and fires at ports or on board ships."

Credible statistics are hard to come by, partly due to a lack of engagement by state authorities with IMO's container inspection standard, but ICHCA International's Richard Brough made an attempt to estimate the extent of the problem based on UNCTAD trade statistics and the results of the relatively few inspections made during the last fifteen years. "Extrapolating from the UNCTAD figure of 180 million teu traded, via the 24 percent of inspected containers carrying dangerous goods (DG) that were found to be badly packed and bearing in mind that cargoes declared as DG make up only around 10 percent of all containers, we can estimate that each year some 25.9 million containers are potentially poorly packed and pose a danger at some point on their journey along the supply chain."

Lars Kjaer, senior vice president of WSC drew attention to the vital matter of container pest contamination, explaining: "Carriers should ensure that empty containers to be delivered for packing are clean and pest free. However, the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) has confirmed that pest contamination of containers and their cargoes is most likely to occur at the point of packing. Shippers and packers need to take appropriate steps to prevent pest contamination of containers while in their custody."

All four organisations are in no doubt about the extent of the task in hand to extend the best practices enshrined in the CTU Code to the majority of those involved in packing containers around the world. A lack of training, language problems, the sheer density of the information contained in the Code, dramatic variations in the types of cargo now being carried in containers and the complexities of international supply chains are among the myriad of challenges facing the industry in achieving widespread adoption.

For reference the full CTU Code can be found here