The International Maritime Bureau has been alerted to a fraud involving a shipping container’s weight and size that is atypical of what one might out of a container weight fraud case; the tare weight, or unladen weight of the container itself was unrealistically falsified and much higher than the actual, correct weight of the container.
The IMB reports that the incident concerned a container of aluminium scrap in which the information outside the box was tampered with to show false weight and size. The fraud was uncovered by an IMB member after being notified of a significant weight shortage on the container, which arrived in the Far East from the Middle East.
During the investigation, the IMB member noted that the tare weight of the container, as shown on its door – and used by the shipper – was 3,680kg, while the cube, also shown on the door, was 2,700 cubic feet. While the numbers displayed were entirely acceptable for a 40 foot container, the box in question was a 20 foot one, according to the IMB. The shipper has since confirmed that the correct tare weight for the container should have been 2,200kg, much lower than what was declared.
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 color, which leads to the conclusion that the door had been repainted at some point, and the new, false figures were added after that. The IMB notes is not known when this was done and it is unlikely to be an isolated case.
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, however it does have knowledge of a case where a label was placed over the container number of a stolen container to disguise the theft. The IMB says that 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 asks that others who detect similar container information tampering to report it so that it can attempt to establish a 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, as mis-declared container weights remains a contributing factor to incidents involving containers lost at sea.
This month, the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee is scheduled to adopt amendments 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, in turn boosting the safety of container ships and crew.
The IMB stresses that in this case, the container owner has denied responsibility and the IMB member doubts its supplier was involved.