The incident concerned a container of aluminium scrap in which the information outside the box was tampered with to show false weight and size.
An IMB member highlighted the case after being notified of a significant weight shortage on the container, which arrived in the Far East from the Middle East.
During the investigation that followed, the member noted that the tare weight of the container, as shown on its door – and used by the shipper – was 3,680kg. The cube, also shown on the door, was 2,700 cubic feet.
The numbers displayed were entirely acceptable for a 40 foot container. However the box in question was a 20 foot one.
The shipper has since confirmed that the correct tare weight for the container should have been 2,200kg.
An examination of the photos taken when the container was loaded revealed that the part of the door on which the figures were displayed was a slightly different colour. This leads to the conclusion that the door had been repainted at some point, and the new (false) figures added after that. It is not known when this was done.
It must be stressed that the container owner has denied responsibility and the IMB member doubts its supplier was involved.
The IMB says it has not come across a case before where a container has been repainted with incorrect weight and size information that in hindsight clearly cannot be correct for a 20 foot container.
It has, however, knowledge of a case where a label was placed over the container number of a stolen container to disguise the theft.
This would be a more logical deception since carriers tend to focus on the container numbers themselves, and rely on the shipper to provide any other information required.
The IMB suggests that this is unlikely to be an isolated case and is asking others who detect similar container information tampering to report it. This will allow IMB to attempt to establish any pattern that might indicate who is responsible and can issue suitable warnings to the industry if it proves widespread in the future.
Apart from being a fraud, mis-declaring the weight of containers can also pose a danger to the vessel and crew. This remains a contributing factor to incidents involving containers lost at sea.
The World Shipping Council estimates on average 546 containers being lost at sea each year between 2008 and 2013, not counting catastrophic events, and on average 1,679 containers lost at sea each year including catastrophic events.
This month, the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee is scheduled to to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea chapter VI to require mandatory verification of the gross mass of containers, either by weighing the packed container or by weighing all packages and cargo items and adding the tare mass.
These measures are seen as a step forward in boosting the safety of container ships and crew.
Source: International Maritime Bureau