The (lost) art of cargo care

Those old enough to recall the general cargo ships which operated liner services to all parts of the world will remember the inordinate amount of time and effort spent in “cargo care”. Huge fortunes were spent on dunnage and Kraft paper and the supervision of stowage was the pre-eminent role of the deck officer with the ship alongside. The “art and science” of good stowage and securing occupied a large part of both the practical and theoretical knowledge necessary for the statutory qualifications of these officers. The avoidance of and the faithful recording of any damage to the cargo was also regarded as essential if a good “out-turn” of the cargo was to be accomplished.

Sadly, very little of this huge repertoire of knowledge and experience seems to have made the transfer from breakbulk into the containers which came to dominate liner operations with a few short years. Early on, the major consortia tried hard to educate those in the inland container consolidation depots and the premises of the major shippers about how to stow and secure cargo within a container. But once it was assumed that the messages had been absorbed, the lines withdrew, leaving it to those doing the “stuffing” to ensure that it was being done correctly.

The evidence of collapsed stows, of cargo bursting through the sides of boxes and the sheer cost of cargo insurance paying for eminently avoidable damage all suggests that there is a good deal of work to be done in this area. While it might be the maritime world which appears to bear the most scars in this respect, road and rail modes each have too many claims in this area, as unbalanced or unsecured cargo causes container s or trailers to overturn on roundabouts or bends and whole trains have been derailed.

So there is some hope that the arrival on the scene of the new IMO/ILO/UNECE Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units (CTUs) will make a difference. It has been three years in development and will, it is hoped, be very much more effective than the 1997 CTU Packing Guidelines. Hopefully to be finalised in Geneva this month and to be approved next year, the Code is a much more all-embracing document, and although non-mandatory, it is hoped that individual governments might see the benefits of its more rigorous approach to CTU packing.

But how can the good practical advice contained in this document, when it appears, be transmitted to the thousands of people all over the world in their thousands of premises who are responsible for loading these units? This was the subject of a useful International Cargo Handling Co-ordination Association (ICHCA) International seminar in London last week, at which everything from practical training to enforcement was covered.

The Code, it seems, will be structured in such a way that it can be “broken down” into sections so that specialist packing staff can be trained in their specific specialities. There are already good packages available for e-learning and similarly structured training, while the use of “pocket guides” and even apps would appear to provide means of getting the message across. It has been suggested that CTU packing companies would themselves see the advantages of quality training in a competitive world, with its marketing advantages. And in the end, of course, the results will speak for themselves. Fewer claims, better out-turns, less damage will be the true test of the efficacy of this Code and its implementation. Source: BIMCO