INSIGHT 151, 1998
01 SEP 1998
Not all claims involving cargo carried in containers concern physical damage to or loss of the container and/or goods.The incident described below shows that the cost of pressing the wrong button on a computer keyboard may be quite substantial.
A booking for the carriage of television sets in several 40 foot containers (containers to be provided by the carrier) from Japan to Hong Kong was made with one of Gards Members.Subsequently, there were various changes to the booking instructions made by the shippers, involving substitution of vessel and alteration of time of shipment.Eventually the booking was cancelled, which prompted an employee of the shipping line to erase the bill of lading information from the computer system, which changed the status flag in the equipment tracking system from "full" to "empty" (i.e., the system indicated that the containers had no cargo in them).The shippers obtained approval from customs for the cancellation of the export a few weeks later.
Shortly thereafter several empty containers were loaded on board one of the Members vessels bound from Japan to China in order to be used in the carriage of outbound cargo from China.Unfortunately, the containers mentioned above were included, as these containers appeared as "empty" in the equipment tracking system.As "empties" they were not included on the cargo manifest for the Chinese port.
When the containers were discharged in China and taken to the container depot as "empties" to be used for loading outbound cargo, they could not be hoisted by a forklift engaged to move them, so the forklift operator opened one of the containers and discovered it was stuffed with television sets!
The local customs authority was notified. The situation became worse when it was noted that the television sets had bar codes and were marked with the name of a Chinese city.This made customs suspicious that there had been an attempted smuggling.Despite the fact that our Member provided customs with all possible information and documentation showing the background to this unfortunate incident, customs continued to view the case as one of smuggling.
Eventually a customs fine of more than USD 1 million had to be paid by the Member in order to obtain the release of the goods.Furthermore, there were claims by the shippers, who had to wait for more than one year for the cargo to be returned to them.Additional outlays relating to the incident caused the final bill to exceed USD 2 million, making this a very expensive computer-generated loss.