10 Steps to Load, Stow and Secure a Freight Container

The Goals.
The safe shipment of cargoes is a primary objective, of course. This is especially important when hazardous cargoes are carried. A related goal is the delivery of the cargo in complete, clean and undamaged condition.

The following are 10 steps and issues to beware when loading, stowing and securing (stuffing) a freight container:

1. The key person is the shipper and/or the person responsible for loading (packing/stuffing) the container.

The right container for the job should be selected. Does the cargo need refrigeration, ventilation, special handling equipment, securing devices or special dunnaging in the container? Is it for exclusive use? If in doubt, consult your ocean carrier or container leasing firm.

2. Container Condition.

Check your container when it arrives. Is it the type you ordered? Examine it for:

— Cleanliness. Is it odor free? Is it weatherproof? If it happened to be raining (or there is melting snow on top) that’s a good time to check for leaks. Otherwise a visual check can be made by inspecting the freight container from within. If any light enters, then water will. (If in doubt, spray it with a hose.) Take particular note of the door gaskets and how well the doors close. This is often a vulnerable point.

— If it is fitted with cargo restraint devices, are they in good condition and in sufficient supply?

— Examine the container carefully for physical condition
just as if you were buying it. (You are, in a sense — even if only for one trip.) Has it been repaired? If so, does the repair quality restore the original strength and weather-proof integrity?

— Look at the sides. Examine them carefully to see if there are any holes or fractured welds. Is the container racked (twisted) or out of line? If so, it has been misused and will probably be inadequate for the safe carriage of your cargo. (Distorted containers are unlikely to fit properly with chassis and handling equipment that must lock into all corner fittings.) Have all placards and markings applicable to previous hazardous cargoes, precautions or destinations been removed from sides and doors?

If it doesn’t pass these tests, call for another container. Remember, if you do not give your cargo the right start, it has little chance of arriving in good condition.

3. About Stowing and “Stuffing.”

In a sense, the shipper is now stowing the ship because a container ship is loaded with hundreds of small portable cargo “compartments” (i.e. freight containers) offered by numerous shippers of many containerized cargoes.
“Stuffing” has become a commonly used term for the loading of cargo into freight containers. The International Maritime Organization refers to that operation as “packing.” To “stow” is to place or arrange compactly and put safely in place. This is a traditional seafaring word meaning to make things ready for sea —to prepare and place cargo and equipment properly for the sea voyage. “Load,” as used by the railroad and trucking industries, is generally synonymous with “stow.”

Whatever you call it, “stow” your cargo properly in the correct freight container and secure it well. (“Stow” and “secure” are two distinct operations you’ll note.)

4. Weight Distribution and Space Utilization.

IMPORTANT: Pre-plan the stowage of the cargo in container. The weight should be spread evenly over the entire length and width of the floor of the container.

For example, if you have a 40-foot container with a cargo capacity of 55,000 pounds and a cubic capacity of 2,090 cubic feet, and your cargo weighs 55,000 pounds but measures only 1,000 cubic feet, it should be stowed about half the height of the container over the entire floor, rather than to the top for one-half the length.

If you are stowing cargoes of uniform density (other than heavily concentrated packages), then a proper, even weight distribution is not a problem. Cargoes of various densities are more of a problem.

5. Compatibility of Cargoes.

If the container is loaded with packages of various commodities, give careful attention to their proper segregation and stowage. The commodities’ physical characteristics (such as weight, size, density) must be considered, as well as whether they are liquids or solids.

Cargo can be of high density, hard-to-damage commodities such as galvanized metal sheets, or low density — but also hard-to-damage goods. Cargoes can be high density, easily damaged electronic components or low-density items such as lampshades. There are numerous possibilities.

A shipper should be aware of previous commodities stuffed in the container, especially if foodstuffs are to be in it.

6. Improper stowage can cause damage to any cargo, including so-called hard-to-damage commodities.

Each commodity must be considered on the basis of its characteristics and properties when planning its packaging and stowage in containers for shipment. The commodity’s compatibility with other cargo in the same container must always be considered.

To achieve the proper cube utilization, a compatible configuration of cargo packaging units is also essential. Exposure to damage by chafing, crushing, odor or fume taint and wetting by condensed moisture or leakage also must be avoided.

Segregation of hazardous materials/dangerous goods within the same or adjacent containers is regulated. Compatibility with other hazardous commodities (and certain non-regulated cargoes) must be in compliance with general and sometimes also specific segregation requirements.

7. Hazardous Cargoes.
U.S. regulations applicable to the transportation of packaged hazardous materials are contained in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Parts 100-178. Those regulations apply to all modes.

The international recommendations for such shipments, but as applicable only to the water mode, are published in the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code. That IMDG Code takes on the force of regulations in each of the countries that have adopted the code into their own laws. Thus it should be regarded as a set of international “regulations.”

The above-referenced U.S. regulations, usually referred to as “49CFR,” apply to packaged hazardous materials for all modes of transportation. Regulations specifically applicable to “Carriage by Vessel” are contained in Part 176 of 49CFR, Parts 100-177.

Both the 49CFR and IMDG Code specify the regulatory requirements for packaged hazardous materials (the U.S. term) and dangerous goods (the international term).

8. Stowage of Wet and Dry; Heavy and Light Cargo.

— Wet and Dry Cargo.
When the container is to be stowed with both packaged wet and dry cargo, the wet goods should never be stowed above the cargo that is liable to damage from moisture or leakage, nor in an adjacent position where leakage might spread along the floor. The dry goods should either be stowed over the wet or, if on the same level, raised off the floor by an extra layer of dunnage. Leakage is most likely to occur in cargoes of barreled or drummed goods. Due care must always be given to proper stowage and securing of drums to prevent movement within the container.

— Heavy and Light Cargo.
Improper stowage of heavy and light cargo together causes crushing and damage to contents. Heavy packages, such as cases of machinery parts and heavy, loose or skidded pieces, should always be stowed on the bottom or floor of the container with lighter goods on top.

Each tier should be kept as level as possible. Lateral crushing should be avoided by carrying the stow out to the sides and ends of the container and filling void spaces with dunnage or an adequate substitute.

If packages are stowed loosely, chafing damage is likely to occur due to the motion or vibration of the truck, train or ocean vessel. They can rub against each other and against boundaries of the container unless secured from movement. Cargo with little or no covering is especially susceptible to chafing damage. A cushioning material should be used to protect against this type of damage.

9. Stowage of Heavy Concentrated Weight.

When planning the stowage of heavy concentrated weights, careful consideration must be given to the maximum permissible weight and the floor loads allowed in the container. The bedding required to properly spread the weight should be arranged with weight distribution factors in mind.

This bedding should consist of lumber of sufficient thickness that will not deflect under the planned load, with the bottom bearers placed longitudinally in the container. The cargo piece or pieces should be bolted to cross members resting on the longitudinals. The cross members must be adequately bolted or fastened to the bottom pieces with backup cleats placed where necessary.

10. Securing.
Fill it or secure it. Use dunnage. Block it out. Leave no void spaces or loose packages on top. Smooth metal-to-metal contact should be avoided as this causes a slippery surface. The slogan “Pack it tight to ride right” is a good one. Remember, typical trucking and railroad cargo securing guides stress stowing to prevent the longitudinal movement in the container. For ocean transport, however, the same rules should be applied to prevent additional sideways movement.

Avoid direct pressure on doors, use a proper fence or gate to fill any void space.

When stowing or loading the cargo in the container, you have a regulatory responsibility to do it correctly. The securing techniques and materials used should be more than just “adequate,” when ocean shipments are involved.

Check that package hazard labels and container placards, if required, have been applied.

Finally, secure the doors, lock and seal them, note the seal numbers for insertion on the bill of lading.

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