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Prepping Your Shipment for Ocean Transit

Over the years, the movement of freight via all modes of transportation has significantly increased. Between 1993 and 2010, the United States freight transportation system saw a 1.9% annual increase in the movement of freight. With advances in technology, larger and faster vessels have significantly increased the amount of ocean freight.  According to the U.S. DOT, “world container traffic more than tripled in volume between 1995 and 2009, from 137 million TEUs to 432 million TEUs, growing at an average annual rate of about 9 percent”.

Just as with land and air freight, there are many intricacies to shipping freight via ocean.  And while it may seem overly complicated, the process can be simplified. Below is a simple list that will help alleviate the stress of moving ocean shipments.

Documentation

Shippers should always ensure all paperwork is correct, on-hand and accounted for.  While standard documentation such as a commercial invoice, packing list, and a certificate of origin may be needed, there are some documents that specifically come into play for ocean freight.

A dock receipt is a document issued by the carrier to acknowledge that goods have been received for shipment. Dock receipts transfer the accountability for the safe custody of the cargo from the shipper to the carrier, and serves as the basis for preparing the bill of lading.

The ocean bill of lading (B/L) acts as a receipt for the cargo and a contract for transportation between a shipper and the ocean carrier. When arranging an ocean shipment there are choices as to what type of ocean B/L will be issued. The options are an express release B/L or an original ocean B/L.

An original ocean B/L is used when the shipper wants to tightly control the release of the freight. When an original B/L is chosen, the shipper receives the original B/L when the goods are laden on board.  The shipper chooses exactly when to release and send the docs to the consignee, usually upon receipt of payment.  To release the goods the shipper sends the original B/L to the consignee via courier, as the freight will not be released until the original B/L is presented.  This option allows the shipper to tightly control the release of the freight, and it usually takes longer than an express release B/L.

The Express Release Bill of Lading provides the quicker option of the two and is used when the shipper wants to release their hold on the cargo immediately. In this case, only electronic copies are provided and the freight is released to the consignee whenever it becomes available.

When arranging the transportation of the goods, be as specific as possible about the weights and dimensions of the pieces being moved. This will ensure that the dock receipts and B/L are correct and the driver and port know what to expect when the freight arrives.

Packaging

Always ensure freight that is packaged in wood is ISPM 15 certified. ISMP 15 rules state that any international freight packaged in wood (crates, skids, pallets, etc.) must be heat-treated and fumigated to kill potential insects and fungus prior to entering or traveling through a foreign country. In order for the material to be loaded on the vessel, freight must be stamped, allowing customs to easily identify that the wood packaging is per regulation and may enter the country.

Containers

It is important to know the different container types that may be utilized for ocean transport. If the container will be stuffed on-site, make sure the provider knows whether the container will be a live load or drop. A live load is when the container is brought to the shipper’s location and stuffed while the driver waits (there may be an hourly charge for extra loading time).  A drop is when the driver drops off the container to be loaded and then returns to collect it once loading is complete.  It is important to take the type of load into consideration when determining cost and transit time.

Like the words “truck” and “airplane”, the term ocean container can relate to a broad range of types. Similarly, different container types may accommodate different freight, weights and dimensions. The most common container types are:

  • 20’ and 40’standard
  • 40’high cube:  container has an extra foot of space in height
  • 20’and 40’open top: there is no top on the container
  • 20’and 40’ flat rack: there are no sides or top
  • Reefer: refrigerated container

Communication

Communication is paramount to successful ocean moves. Always know the important dates and keep contact names and numbers close. Make sure that all involved parties are aware of when the freight will be ready for collection, when containers will be dropped off at the shipping location, full booking details, and appointment times to deliver freight to the port. Make sure that all documents and applicable information is handed off to all appropriate parties, including forwarders, brokers and consignee. It is important to keep contact information of those involved with the shipment, including a contact from the shipping location, port, freight forwarder, and vessel.

While there are many different processes and things to take into consideration when moving ocean freight, as long as the above steps and information are followed, it will help maintain a strategy to ensure smooth sailing.

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