Packing Cargo for Sea Freight: How to Prepare Your Shipment

Packing your cargo is one of the most essential aspects of international shipping.

With over 90% of global trade moving via the ocean, most of the world’s freight is exposed to damage when being shipped on a vessel. But every day, shipments are damaged because of improper packaging.

It’s no wonder that cargo damage has grown to become a predominant underlying reason behind many expensive marine insurance claims.

As demand for sea freight continues to rise throughout the current unpredictable pandemic, it’s now more important than ever to ensure your shipment is prepared and your ocean cargo is properly packed.

What is packing important in shipping?

Packing is vital in shipping to ensure that your cargo is transported across the ocean without suffering damage or loss.

Consider the movements of a vessel during a sea journey and the multiple handling points the vessel goes through. Cargo will shift as the vessel soars through the waves, when containers are transported on trucks, and when they are lifted by forklifts or even gantry cranes. If your cargo is unevenly spread in a container, this can have drastic consequences.

Further, if your container is not completely packed (and there is lots of free space), this also increases the risk of your cargo shifting as it moves from side to side. You’ll want to remove as much “dead” space as possible, and chock or lash your loose items to the maximum possible extent in a container.

But shifting cargo isn’t the only risk. Consider the people who are handling your cargo on land. Cargo could be dropped, rolled, pushed, dragged or any number of things which could damage your cargo.

Most personnel throughout the supply chain have no idea what they are actually handling. Correct packing and labelling, however, will ensure the carrier and other parties clearly understand any restrictions around your cargo including if they are dangerous goods, “top load only” or fragile.

Tips for packing LCL cargo

Less than Container Load (LCL) shipments refer to those containers in which your cargo takes up ‘less than’ the entire container.

You will typically be sharing the space with other shippers’ cargo, as all goods are consolidated into one container.

1. Use strong and sturdy boxes

In an LCL shipment, you often won’t know what the other cargo is that’s sharing your container space. Therefore, it is always best to play it safe with strong and sturdy boxes to minimise the risk of breakage.

Note, however, that how a product is packaged will depend upon the destination and the method of transportation.

2. Double walled boxes

Double walled boxes are simply heavy-duty cardboard boxes created with two layers of stacked corrugated cardboard. They are especially used for transportation when added protection is necessary.

These boxes are strong enough to be stacked and will provide the best protection for your goods. Strong, plastic totes are also a good option.

3. Tape gun and packing tape

The container your goods are shipped in will go through extreme temperature changes.  Make sure, therefore, that your packing tape is high-quality and not made from cheap material.

Lesser quality tape has a tendency to lose its ‘stickiness’ during transit, thus increasing the chances of your boxes collapsing.

4. Palletise your cargo

Ensure cargo is palletised where possible for ease of handling with forklifts. When palletising, make sure to put the heaviest cargo at the bottom and lightest at the top.

5. Wrap smartly

When wrapping your cargo, wrap in black shrink wrap to conceal the nature of your cargo (in case somebody nearby has the urge to steal it).

Wrap tightly and from bottom to top to avoid movement during transit.

6. Label correctly

Label your cargo clearly and as required for the type of cargo you are sending. If your cargo is fragile or top load only, clearly mark these details on the packaging.

Doing this minimises the risk of your container and cargo being handled incorrectly, and ultimately reduces the chance of your cargo being damaged.

7. Be particularly careful with wood packaging.

Wood packaging is recognised as a pathway to the introduction and the spread of pests.

In order to reduce the spread of infestation, you’ll need to make sure you comply with the international treatment guidelines adopted by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).

Any wood packaging must be ISPM 15 compliant, which simply means you must comply with the ‘International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures Publication No. 15 (2009): Regulation of Wood Packaging Material in International Trade’.

You can read more about your ISPM 15 compliance obligations here.

ISPM15 label – certified pallet

Tips for packing FCL Cargo

Full Container Load (FCL) shipments refer to transporting your goods in a full container. It’s where you use a container exclusively for your shipment, and your shipment alone. You will not share the space with anybody else.

You can read more about FCL shipments in our article on buyer’s consolidation.

Note that if your goods are palletised, then you should follow similar processes to the LCL consignments discussed above.

If your cargo is not palletised, however, consider other equipment such as crates or cradles to fully secure and prevent the cargo from moving.

1. Distribute your weight

When shipping FCL, you should distribute the weight of your cargo evenly over the floor area. Make sure to cover the entire floor space of the container.

By minimising the amount of open space in the container, you reduce the risk of your goods shifting and colliding with one another and against the walls.

2. Spread your goods out

You should also spread your goods as much as you can out in terms of volume. Don’t have your cargo stacked up on one end of the container or have them spread out on the floor on the other end of the container.

3. Use dunnage

Dunnage refers to material (which could be wood or matting) that is used to keep cargo in a secure position on a ship.

In the event that you don’t have enough cargo to cover the entire space of your container, you may fill them with dunnage.

4. Pack tightly

Pack your container as tightly as possible. If needed, use straps to secure the cargo in its place.

But, at the same time, be careful not to put direct pressure on the container door. Use a fence or gate if needed to avoid direct pressure.

5. Be careful of weight

Don’t over stack your container so that it is too heavy. Always keep the total cargo weight in mind. Do not exceed the maximum container payload and make sure it is accurately declared.

You can check the verified gross mass (VGM) of your container by either weighing the packed container, or weighing the container’s contents and add that to your container’s tare weight.

What happens if your goods are not packaged correctly?

If your goods aren’t packed correctly, you’re opening your supply chain to a great deal of risk – including both delays ad extra costs.

The three primary risks that can occur include:

  • Cargo arrives damaged. To minimise risks of this, we recommend booking marine insurance when arranging the shipment with your forwarder.
  • Cargo can become unsafe for transportation. If your goods aren’t packed properly, they may damage other people’s cargo. They may also injure personnel who are handling the container or cargo.
  • Cargo may be rejected by carriers. If your goods arrive to the port of origin with poor packing, the carrier might refuse to load it onto their vessel. This ultimately leads to added costs and delays for you.

damaged-cargo-inside-shipping-container
cargo-collapsed in container

One Last (Important) Note: Make sure the container is clean prior loading your cargo!

On arrival into Australia, a contaminated or dirty sea container may be inspected then fumigated, cleaned or treated, reinspected, stored, lifted, tarped, transported, or sometimes even exported.

That is because containers can carry and spread exotic pests and diseases. These are known as hitchhiker pests and includes the giant African snail, khapra beetle, stink bug and fire ant. Hitchhiker pests pose a significant threat to Australia’s delicate ecosystem and biosecurity, agriculture industry and economy.

For importers, each one of the steps above can represent significant clearance delays and unexpected costs, adding up to thousands of dollars.

The goods within the container may also become contaminated and damaged, resulting in even more commercial losses.

Below are 7 key tips on how to maintain container cleanliness.

Use an expert freight forwarder (that ‘thinks out of the box container’)

When shipping internationally, it’s always a good idea to engage a professional freight forwarder who can make sure your goods are properly packed before they enter into a vessel.

Our expert freight specialists have had decades of combined experience packing cargo for sea freight involving many different types of cargo.

We’ve developed the unrivalled ability to help you navigate through the complex environment of cargo packaging and labelling, ensuring you have nothing but a smooth ocean shipment.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us today or leave a comment below, and we’ll be sure to get back to you.

Request a Free Quote or call us on 1300 227 461

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What Others Are Saying About International Cargo Express

Managed goods end to end

Due to critical stock levels we needed a fast solution to urgently meet growing client demand. Presented with this challenge, ICE quickly identified appropriate freighter services and proactively managed the movement of goods end to end.

Eddie Liaw – Supply Chain Director

ICE offered flexibility

ICE offered flexibility, high levels of communication and attention to detail during our pick, pack and delivery project. With their professional support we were able to meet the demands of our supply chain knowing our freight was in safe hands.

Tony Kealy – National Distribution Manager

Without exception and on time

Since having International Cargo Express handle my ocean freight , I have had my bookings and equipment available without exception and on time. Communication between ICE and my supplier is very good and I receive information via my shipper before my supplier.

Michael Caiacob – Purchasing and Supply Officer

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