Technical advisor at the International Cargo Handling Co-ordination Association (ICHCA), Richard Brough, warned that some aspects of non-compliance in container shipping have worsened since the Container Transport Units Code (CTU Code) was updated in 2014.

Freight container cargo types have expanded over many years, and innovations have changed the way some cargo types are transported. The person who secures the cargo onto the cargo transport unit (CTU) is probably the last person to see what is inside until it is opened at its final destination. The skills of this person are, therefore, relied on by many people in the transport chain including staff members on various modes of transportation, handling staff at terminals, and people near where the cargo is loaded, transported (on roads, rail lines), and unloaded. All these people along the supply chain may be put at risk by poorly packed or mislabelled cargo.

According to Brough, there has been an increase of almost 30% in shippers failing to mark and placard their shipments correctly.

“In April 2015, we saw a 40ft container go up in smoke in Vancouver,” he said. “A disreputable shipper had failed to put a placard on the container detailing the contents – likely to avoid the premium associated with this.”

This omission caused delays in managing the situation as pouring water on the then unidentified substance could cause a dangerous reaction. The contents were later confirmed to be trichloro isocyanuric acid, an industrial disinfectant used in swimming pools and as a bleaching agent in the textile industry.

The acid was identified as a respiratory irritant harmful to eyes and lungs, according to a Vancouver Coastal Health spokesperson. People with homes in the area were warned to close windows and remain indoors. Those who needed to go outside were asked to “cover their eyes and mouth with a wet cloth”.

According to Maersk and the US Department of Homeland Security, there are about 200 million container movements or shipboard trips annually, and Brough estimated 38 million containers in use.

Brough extrapolated that if “Somewhere between 10% and 12% of containers are loaded with dangerous goods – let’s assume 10%. Some estimates suggest actual unit numbers run at approximately 60% of TEU – 22.8m containers, or 120m movements a year. So let’s assume 50% are packed with cargo, and that equates to approximately six million dangerous goods movements a year.”


ICHCA reports also show that 39% of units inspected had placarding and marking issues, with 4.5% having problems with the packaging itself over a ten-year period.