A container seal is an integral part of a shipping container. It is compulsory for every shipping container to have at least one seal before a shipping line allows the container to be shipped.
Container seals may come in many shapes and forms from embossed lead wire seals to plastic and metal strip seals to plastic and metal bullet seals to padlocks, all of which have been used by customers to safeguard the precious cargo that is shipped in containers.
Depending on the shipping line or the exporter and the level of safeguard required, containers may be sealed with any of the above combination of seals.
The most preferred type of seal for carriers however, is the high security bolt container seals, that meets the criteria of ISO PAS 17712.
Shipping lines have their own policies with regards to the acceptance of the different types of seals allowed by them. For example Maersk Line
all have their individual policies with slight variances.
Most of the shipping lines and especially the ones that deal with USA, have established container sealing requirements under the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS
) and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT)
Customs authorities in most of the countries also have their own seal reporting requirements
as these requirements form an important part of supply chain and national security..
Where on the container should I put the seal ?
Pic of a container door with lock rods and bullet seal.
It is imperative that a seal be present on the container and that it is put in the right place.
What would be the right place ?
Well, a container has two lock rods on each door. The left door closes first and then the right door.
So the most effective place where the container seal needs to be put is on the right door of the shipping container as that has to be opened first.
The seal can be put either on one or both of the lock rods. If required, you can put an additional seal(s) on the left door, but in terms of security, that really doesn’t matter unless the cargo cannot be taken out through one door.
Some containers may also have an anti-theft locking device (ATD) where a high security seal can be fixed and an optional seal fixed on the Secura Cam, located on the bottom of the third locking bar.
Where available, high security bolt seals should be placed in the “Secura Cam” position at the bottom end of the left locking bar of the right door.
So how many seals should you put on a container?
There is no rule on how many seals you must put on a shipping container. A container should have at least 1 seal in the right place. A container has 4 locking rods, an optional ATD and an optional Secura Cam. So technically there are 6 places you can put seals on a shipping container.
But whichever type of seal you put or how many ever you put, it is important to remember that a seal is not designed to eliminate theft or pilferage. Because in most cases it is just one seal standing between the thieves and your cargo.
Anyway, the main function of the container seal is to ensure and ascertain that no one has access to the cargo from the time it has been sealed at origin till the time it has been received by the receiver.
The objective of the container seal is not just to minimize the risk of someone accessing the container and taking cargo out, but also to avoid someone putting illegal stuff into the container such as drugs, weapons of mass destruction, contraband, counterfeit etc…
For this precise reason, receivers of the cargo/container must make sure that the seal number shown on the bill of lading/manifest and the seal and seal number present on the container when they receive it are exactly the same.
A high security bolt seal with the number 123456 is different from a strip seal with the same 123456 number. A seal with a prefix XYZ before the 123456 is different from a seal with just 123456.
A lot of the shippers/surveyors/packing warehouses at origin take photos of the container after it has been sealed, to avoid above issues.
If there is a seal or seal number discrepancy between manifest and container, the receiver should IMMEDIATELY advise the shipping line of the same and invite them for a joint survey of the container.
There are a lot of empty containers also shipped between demand and supply areas. In certain areas of the world where the risk of stowaways are high, some of the shipping lines may also seal these empty containers so that illegal migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, human traffickers, terrorists etc do not gain access into shipping containers.
As an added security measure, empty containers may be loaded with the doors facing inwards towards other containers so there is no way to open the containers. You may have read my previous article about the direction of containers when loaded on a ship. So as you can see, the simple, unassuming container seal plays a very important role in global trade and global security.