What causes cargo damage and how to prevent it

Cargo damage may happen at any stage during transit. Regardless of the mode of transport you use. Even if you plan every shipment with the utmost care, you just can’t foresee everything. Besides, there are conditions that are out of your control, such as accidents or natural disasters.

When damage occurs to cargo, you may suffer product and financial losses. Not only that but this sort of occurrence may take its toll on your business relationships with your customers.
You can take action to prevent cargo damage from happening if you identify potential risks and prepare your consignment accordingly.

But, firstly, you have to understand…


What are the 5 types of cargo damage?

Cargo-related claims may come in many shapes and forms. However, there are only five types that are classified as cargo damage.

Physical damage

During transit, cargo experiences intense longitudinal and transverse forces. As a consequence, it may roll, drop or slide around.

This may cause physical damage, such as dents, cracks or major scratches, even if the goods are properly packed.

Wet damage

One of the greatest enemies of cargo is damp. Moisture arising from condensation, container seawater ingress and the like, may result in significant damages to your consignment.

Contamination damage

This sort of damage occurs when a foreign body is found in your cargo, which renders it impure. This means your goods will be considered unsafe for human consumption or other industrial or operational usages.

Contamination damage affects solids, liquids and even gases. And the contaminant may be water, another type of cargo, a chemical additive or solid matter.

Reefer related damage

Perishable commodities (e.g., fruits, vegetables and meats) are sensitive to temperature changes. That’s why they are transported in controlled atmosphere refrigerated containers.

However, despite the controlled environment, cargo may still suffer damage during transit. Some common occurrences are bruising, thawing, freeze damage, discoloration and over-ripening.

Infestation damage

Infestation happens when a large number of insects or animals (mainly rodents) are found in a cargo.

It mostly affects agricultural products and it leads to contamination of cargo, rendering the goods unsuitable for human use.



What are the possible causes of cargo damage?

Physical damage

At first sight, the ocean may look like a flat surface. Well, far from it. Wind, currents, waves… All these variables how vessels move across the water.

There are six types of ship movements:

  • Heave: vertical motion
  • Sway: transverse motion
  • Surge: longitudinal motion
  • Roll: longitudinal rotation
  • Pitch: transverse rotation
  • Yaw: vertical rotation

So, not just forward and reverse, but up and down, side to side, and even heaving into the air.

Now, these movements cause different strains and stresses on the cargo inside the container. Even more so if the cargo isn’t secured properly, which would make it sway during transport.

With this in mind, it will come as no surprise that the main cause for physical damage is bad stowage, such as:

Incorrect securing of cargo (e.g., not using enough dunnage or lashing materials).
Uneven weight distribution (e.g., placing cargo in just one area, rather than spreading it evenly).

Improper loading of cargo (e.g., piling heavy crates on top of lighter pallets).

Wet damage

Cargo may be damaged due to condensation. Condensation occurs as a consequence of temperature fluctuations during the voyage. However, it may also happen if you use the wrong sort of container (i.e., a normal container rather than a ventilated one).

Overall, the most common cause for moisture damage is hatch covers’ leakage, followed by heavy weather.

These two incidents tend to go hand in hand. Badly maintained hatch covers fail to meet their intended use: prevent water from entering the cargo hold when the boat is sailing through bad weather.

Contamination damage

Insufficient cleaning of the boat’s tanks and improper cargo handling during loading or discharge are the main causes for contamination claims.

And so is odour transfer. Delicate cargoes (e.g., foodstuffs, clothing, tea, cotton, to name but a few) are very sensitive to contamination due to odour.

Reefer related damage

Given the nature of reefer cargo, it goes without saying that an equipment malfunction or power failure is bound to result in damages.

Other factors to watch out for are:

  • Human error in setting of temperature
  • Improper stowage, leading to poor air circulation
  • Improper dunnage, which allows cargo to sway, causing crushing
  • Lack of proper pre-cooling

Infestation damage

Infestation happens when insects or rodents move into one container from previous containers or cargo.

Another scenario leading to this sort of damage is pests being transferred from an infested warehouse where the cargo was kept.


How can we avoid cargo damages?

Here are some tips:

  • Use the correct type of container for the kind of cargo to be loaded.
  • Ensure that the right lashings and dunnage materials are used to prevent cargo from moving.
  • Distribute cargo weight as evenly as possible.
  • Make sure incompatible products aren’t mixed in the container (e.g., clothing and chemicals).
  • Use anti-humidity materials or ventilated containers for water-sensitive cargo.
  • Ensure the doors of the container seal properly.
  • Clean all tanks, pumps and lines thoroughly to avoid contamination.
  • Make sure your reefer container has a valid Pre-Trip Inspection (PTI) certificate, attesting to the correct functioning of the cooling unit, temperature control, and recording devices.
  • Ensure that the warehouse where your cargo is stored is free of pests and rodents.

Now, you may be thinking it’s down to your shipper or forwarder to implement these precautionary measures. So, if your cargo does get damaged during transit, the whole blame game will start: Who’s at fault? And how can you prove it?

Ascertaining liability is time-consuming and draining… unless a professional claims handler does it on your behalf.

Let us handle your cargo damage claims within just a few clicks.

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