How to prepare for your reefer cargo claims pre and post-shipment.

Shipping perishables around the globe has never been a smooth ride for shippers. Shippers put so much effort into making sure that cargo arrives at its destination in sound condition. But this is not often the case as buyers sometimes complain that cargo has arrived with quality issues. When damage occurs, the shipper is often quick to hold the carrier liable. The question is can the shipper really prove that the carrier is liable for the damage? This question can be answered if you (the shipper) know how to prepare for your reefer cargo claims pre and post-shipment.

In the English law of equity, there is a maxim that states that ‘’he who comes into equity must come with clean hands’’. This simply means that for a plaintiff to succeed in his claim against the defendant, he must prove to the satisfaction of the court that he has performed his own obligations correctly. Can you prove that your cargo was in sound condition before it was handed over to the carrier? Can you also prove that cargo handed over to the carrier in sound condition has been damaged due to his acts or omissions? Shippers often lack concrete evidence to these questions and that is why the carrier often rejects your cargo claims.

Shippers must therefore understand that documenting pre-shipment and post-shipment conditions or quality of perishables is the only solution to frequent claim rejections from the shipping line. This may seem to be a daunting task but it has enormous gains. It will not only facilitate the claims handling process but your chances of a successful recovery from the carrier will increase. What about improving internal processes?

What then must shippers do in order to be one step ahead of the carrier?

A) Measures in relation to goods

The measures shipper should take prior to shipping are measures related to; Goods, Packaging, Container, stowage, and bill of lading.

  • Keep records of harvest dates
  • Make sure fruits and vegetables are pre-cool to the right temperatures
  • Document pre-cooling temperatures

B) Measures in relation to packaging

  • Make sure packaging material is able to support a stacking height of up to 2.4 meters
  • Packaging material should be able to withstand humidity without collapsing
  • Packaging should be able to allow adequate vertical airflow through the cartons in order to maintain the desired temperatures
  • As air comes from the bottom of the container, optimal air circulation is achieved if each carton has symmetrical holes both at the top and bottom. Note that the number, placement, size, and shape of air holes depend on the product type being packaged.
  • The wrapping material used should be sufficiently secure to prevent any blockage of the evaporator fan.
  • Use wax-impregnated cardboard. If humidity is to be used for transportation or other materials that will not lose strength in high humidity environments.
  • For frozen cargo, cartons should be aligned to permit unrestricted airflow and the corners of cartons should be supported.
Fig. 1: Picture depicting holes at the bottom of the cardboard box
Fig. 2: Sample pictures of how your packaging should look like

C) Measures in relation to container

  • Inspect container both externally and internally before stowage; check for any holes, dents, bends, cracks from improper previous repairs, torn door gaskets/rubbers
  • Insert temptales in the container to record voyage temperatures
  • Take pictures of where temptale is inserted in the container
  • Make sure the temptale temperature set point is correct
  • Take pictures of temptale temperature set point prior to container stowage
  • Take good pictures of the container after stowage indicating the container number
  • Make sure the reefer container temperature set point is correct
  • Take good pictures of reefer container temperature set point prior to loading on the vessel

D) Measures in relation to stowage

  • Stuffing should allow the circulation of refrigerated air through the packaging material and throughout the entire load.
  • Cargo must never under any circumstances be stored above the red load line. This is to ensure the proper circulation of refrigerated air.

For palletized cargo, the following steps are recommended:

  1. The cartons must be stacked squarely on top of one another. To ensure that the weight is evenly distributed to the four corners of the cartons.
  2. The corners of each carton should be supported directly by the pallet.
  3. Place cartons on the pallets so that airflow up into the cartons is not restricted.
  4. The ventilation holes are located at the top and bottom of the cartons. They must be aligned to allow the air to pass freely through the entire load.
  5. Do not use shrink-wrapped pallets, slip sheets, foam trays, plastic bags, or similar materials that may block the air passage.
  6. If pallets are wrapped with plastic to provide stability, do not cover the cartons’ bottom or top.
  • Take good pictures of stowage condition inside packaging materials and inside the container
  • Establish a packing list to indicate how much quantity of cargo has been stowed inside the container

E) Measures in relation to Bill of lading

  • Make sure goods are properly described on the bill of lading; weight, quantity, quality, and temperature setting should be clearly stated
  • Before the container is loaded on board the vessel, open one or two cartons for the carrier to inspect and confirm quality. This is to prevent the carrier’s defense on the bill of lading that often states that cargo described on B/L is shippers load, stow, count, quantity, quality, weight, and measures are unknown to the carrier.

Shippers should note that having evidence of the pre-shipment condition or quality of goods is not sufficient to make a successful claim. The importer that is complaining that goods have arrived damaged has a very important role to play in the claim process against the carrier. Shippers must make sure the importer takes this very seriously. Measures the importer must take include;

  • Giving notice of damage to the carrier and inviting the carrier for a joint survey within 3 days
  • Engaging a surveyor if the value of the loss is very high
  • Taking good pictures indicating container number while its doors are still closed
  • Taking good pictures of cargo still inside the container
  • Take good pictures of damaged cargo inside the packaging.
  • Taking pictures of the reefer container arrival temperatures
  • Take good pictures of where temptale is located inside the container before removing
  • Downloading temperature records of the temptale
  • Sales of undamaged cargo in secondary markets
  • Destruction and/or disposal of unsalvageable cargo
  • Obtaining and keeping records of sales invoices, safe destruction, and/or disposal certificates.

To learn how to conduct pre and post-shipment inspections using your mobile phone, click here, to book a demo session.

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