Container Seals: Importance, Types, Requirements (2)

By Hari Menon

Closing the Container Doors

A normal sea container made of Corten Steel (a kind of weather-resistant, heavy-duty steel) has two doors, each having two lock-rods. These lock-rods run vertically, from the top to the bottom of the container, and helps to lock the doors in place.

Separate handles attached to these lock-rods have small catches that have holes through which the seal is fixed to anchors on the container doors. The door on the left-hand side is closed first followed by the one on the right.

While opening, the door on the right-hand side has to be opened first followed by the one on the left. This is because the vertical edge of the right-side door presses against the vertical edge of the door on the left, keeping it closed.

Hence, the seal can be put on any one of the lock-rods of the right-hand side door. There are three openings on each of the lock-rods through which bolt seals can be fixed. They can also be affixed on lock-rods of both the doors, to play it safe.

Fixing the Container Seal

A bolt seal comes as a single unit with its unique number embossed or laser-printed on both the pin as well as the barrel. It is considered good practice to check that the numbers match between the two, before fixing the seal.

The barrel is first separated from the pin by snapping the plastic connector between the two. It can then be easily fixed by pressing the open end of the pin firmly through the appropriate openings in the lock-rod, into the sealed barrel.

You can hear a soft click as it locks itself into place. Experienced warehouse-hands and container handlers ensure that the seal is firmly in place by trying it with their hands. Once locked, the only way to open the container seal is to cut the pin with a seal or bolt cutter.

Some consignors send pictures of the locked seal to the consignee, affixed with the date and time stamp. Such pictures come in handy in the event of loss or damage to cargo as they help surveyors and insurance companies to decide on the veracity of a claim.

Port and Customs requirements

Generally, Port and Customs authorities around the world insist on at least a single seal on a container – as long as it is fixed in the appropriate hole of the lock-rod on the door to the right. However, it is left to the discretion of the shipper on the number of seals that are used to seal a container

The maximum number possible is six, as container door lock-rods have at a maximum, only six openings through which you can put container seals.

In recent times, drug smugglers have time and again resorted to smuggling drugs through normal supply chains, such as a sea consignment. With strong financial backing, international criminal organizations find newer and better ways to smuggle drugs in containers.

Latin American countries like Columbia, Peru, and Bolivia are the major producers of drugs like cocaine. From these countries, the drugs find their way to the US, Europe, and Asia. Similarly, drugs from Asian countries also reach these countries. Smugglers often ship drugs under the guise of legitimate cargo.

As one of the ways to deter this, Port and Customs officials across the world carry out random checks on shipping containers. For gaining access to the container and to carry out their inspection, they will have to cut open the container seal affixed by the shipper.

However, in such instances, a new Customs seal will be fixed. Random checks on containers are usually done by the Port Customs to ensure that goods carried in them are as per what has originally been declared to the Customs department.

*To continue next week