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Container Packing /Stuffing, Unpacking, Cleaning & Fumigation Technics


The packing of a container may take place at the customer's premises, an inland terminal or depot, an agent's premises, a port terminal or (in special circumstances) on board ship. Packing of a container should pose no problems to stevedores accustomed to stowing a general cargo but with packing taking place remotely from a port, the necessary expertise may not be available.

Before packing, the container should be checked for fitness, i.e., that it is suitable concerning type, cleanliness, and repair for the cargo it has to carry and the voyage to be made. These checks should include:

A. External
  1. Walls and roof­no holes or tears (look for light from outside while inside the unit with the doors closed),
  2. Door hinges and locks­in good working condition with no broken or distorted parts,
  3. Open-top units­roof closures sound (e.g. no tears in tilts) and well fitting,
  4. Labels­out-of-date labels to be removed,
  5. Refrigerated units­temperature set correctly for the cargo to be loaded with recording chart in place,
  6. Tank containers­loading, discharging and relief valves operating correctly and properly shut where necessary.
B Internal
  1. Cleanliness­no remnants of the previous cargo, e.g. dust, sweepings, grease, liquid, etc. Remove nails from the floor and side battens,
  2. Dryness­free from sweat, frost, etc., which might adversely affect the cargo to be packed,
  3. Infestation­free of any signs that vermin or pests are or have been present,
  4. Taint­particularly if delicate goods or foodstuffs are to be put in the container, ensure that there is no residual taint from previous cargo, disinfectants or fumigants.
  5. Watertightness­the check to ascertain if walls or roof are punctured will also provide a check on the watertightness of the unit.
container stuffing
Container stuffing

A container that is damaged in any way should not be accepted for packing. A recent report has indicated that poor packing is the cause of more than 40% of cargo-related accidents with containers. Besides, 66% of container accidents involve dangerous goods, and more than half of those involve leakage. It is worth noting that over 30% of such incidents occurred with containers loaded in Europe or North America, indicating that in no area of the world can proper packing be taken for granted.

The alphabetical list of commodities in Part 3 indicates the requirements for each type of cargo. These generally apply equally to the commodity whether it is carried as breakbulk or in a container.

Particular care must be taken with the carriage of Dangerous Goods in containers, and reference should be made to the IMDG Code Chapter 7.4. (see also Part 2 "Dangerous Goods").

The cargo stowed in a container must be restrained from any movement, i.e., it is properly secured. Adequate restraint will prevent: Restraint within a container can be achieved by: As mentioned previously, the basic principles applying to a general cargo stow can be applied to container stowage. It is worth repeating some of them to emphasize their worth. Cargo may damage itself or adjacent cargo if not properly stowed and secured by mechanical damage (e.g., crushing), cross- contamination (e.g., taint, spillage or leakage), migration of dust or debris, infestation, and condensation. Such damage in containers may be guarded against by: Just as it is important to consider weight distribution when loading in a hold or 'tween deck in a general cargo ship, it is equally important to consider the weight distribution when packing a container. Cargo should be evenly distributed and aimed to keep the center of gravity as low as possible. No more than 60% of the weight should be in one half of the container to prevent the container tipping when lifted and ensure that the container structure is not overloaded in one area. Heavy high-density cargo (e.g., lead or copper ingots) should be positioned hard up against the side walls with the weight distributed as extensively as possible to obtain full benefit from the inherent floor strength. Such cargoes may require substantial dunnage and or securing to support the weight, spread the load and prevent shifting.

Cargo susceptible to damage from temperature fluctuations may have to be carried in insulated containers under temperature control conditions, or given a stowage position protected from direct sunlight. Refrigerated cargo must be packed in such a manner that the air may move around and through the cargo sufficiently freely to maintain the required temperatures .

Cargo requiring ventilation may have to be carried in containers fitted with mechanical ventilation, open- sided or open-top containers. The stowage pattern of such cargo should be arranged to allow the proper movement of air through the cargo to achieve the ventilation required.

Container Unpacking/Stripping

During unpacking (de-vanning or stripping) of a container, the following procedures should be carefully followed:
  1. labels (e.g., Dangerous Goods labels) or notices concerning the contents attached to the unit, should be examined for precautions that may need to be taken;
  2. The container's external condition should be sound and any damage that may have affected the contents should be noted;
  3. the seal should be intact with no evidence of tampering with a note made of the number for future reference;
  4. the right-hand door should be cautiously opened first­this will guard against the risk of improperly secured cargo falling out and injuring personnel;
  5. if there is a risk of gas being present (e.g., liquid nitrogen has been used as a refrigerant), doors should be left open for some minutes to allow gas residue to dissipate before personnel enter the container;
  6. when the container is empty the interior should be checked and any cargo residue, dunnage or packing removed.

Container Cleaning

While it may not be necessary to clean a container internally each time it carries a cargo, the following circumstances will make it necessary to consider cleaning:
  1. spillage of either a liquid or a solid which might contaminate a future cargo;
  2. taint which might affect a future cargo;
  3. infestation, which may not always be apparent at the time of inspection;
  4. residue of a previous cargo for quarantine or other reasons;
  5. safety and/or good operating practice to remove old dunnage, packing materials, etc.
Different types and or levels of contamination from residues or spillage may require different methods of cleaning and may include a simple sweep with a broom, a cold freshwater wash using soap or detergent, a hot freshwater wash using soap or detergent, a steam clean or the replacement of highly contaminated parts (e.g., the wooden floor) which involves a major repair rather than cleaning.

The degree to which a container is cleaned depends to a certain extent on the next commodity likely to be carried and possibly on the various jurisdictions of the trade in which the container is utilised.

Container ship loaded various container sizes
Container ship loaded various container sizes


Containers may require fumigation:
  1. to destroy residual infestation from a previous cargo when empty;
  2. to fumigate a particular cargo, e.g. malt, when stuffed; or
  3. to comply with the quarantine requirements of a particular jurisdiction, e.g. Australia or the United States.
Fumigation is normally carried out by specialist companies. Containers are cleared for shipment only after removing any fumigation residue. However, circumstances may require a container to be shipped while under fumigation. In such a situation, full agreement and understanding must be reached between ship and shore staff before loading, including the provision of an appropriate stowage position with adequate ventilation. The container must be marked with warning notices, labels, and restriction of access to unauthorized persons. Containers under Methyl Bromide or Phosphine gas fumigation are dangerous and must be carried the following legislation strictly and referencing the appropriate authorities.

Fumigation Methods

Methyl Bromide may be injected into a container via special inlets on the top side rails or other suitable points. Alternatively, it may be introduced via the doors. In any case, fumigation should only be carried out by authorized and experienced personnel, with proper protective clothing and breathing apparatus. The container should have warning labels displayed and should be fenced off to prevent unauthorized approach.

Phosphine may be introduced in the form of pellets which emit gas. It is as a result of reaction with the moisture in the air. This gas is even more dangerous than Methyl Bromide, and residue of pellets must be removed from the container before cargo handling personnel are permitted to enter.

Related Information

Details Of various Container Types

Safe navigation in a seaway

Hull strength & stability requirement for containerships

Cargo cranes operation, maintenance & safety matters

Cargo stowage and planning in containership

Cargo care at sea

Containership hull strength and stability

Securing arrangement in containerships

Cargo securing in containership requirements

Safe cargo operation in containership

Containerships cargo carrying advantages

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