Freight News, Logistics, Forwarding

Accurate cargo description is still essential, says ITAL chief

[ June 30, 2020   //   ]

Many companies, particularly freight forwarders, are failing to properly describe goods being moved within the European Union, says managing director of Manchester-based Ital Logistics, Phil Denton.

While there is no requirement from Customs to give accurate descriptions for intra-EU traffic, it is still important for other reasons, especially where fragile, high value goods and foodstuff based products are concerned, he argues. Moreover, with the UK’s impending exit from the EU and the reintroduction of full customs controls, such casual practices will in any case soon have to come to an end.

Phil Denton told FBJ: “The maritime industry has SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) requirements, and more recently, those for Verified Gross Mass (VGM). Furthermore, there is, quite rightly, an increasing emphasis on the misdeclaration of dangerous goods – so why is it ‘accepted’ practice in the forwarding industry to have little regard for the correct cargo description when moving goods within the EU?”

He says that ITAL, one of the leading carriers of dangerous goods between the UK and continental Europe and which frequently moves shipments on behalf of other operators, often receives bookings – mainly from fellow forwarders – which describe cargo only as either ‘spare parts’, ‘non-hazardous goods’ or something similarly vague.

Denton, who along with other members of ITAL’s staff is a qualified Dangerous Goods Safety Advisor (DGSA) says: “It, is becoming rather tedious. The same companies have to declare correctly when shipping outside the EU, so why not exercise the same professionalism when moving goods around the EU? Just because there have been little or no customs requirements when trading with the EU for the last 25 years or so, it doesn’t mean that it ‘doesn’t matter’.”

He adds: “One wouldn’t ship a container of sulphuric acid and not say what it was – at least, I’d like to think not. There are financial and legal consequences from doing so.”

As for non-hazardous goods, while there are no reasons in law or regulation to accurately declare and it has become accepted practice by many to give descriptions such as ‘parts’ or similar, it is highly desirable that the forwarder carrying the goods should know what they are. This is particularly true of fragile, high value, theft-attractive, foodstuffs (or have to be treated as foodstuffs). Goods of that nature that are not so declared could be uninsured under general CMR cover, which insures goods under a limited liability, Denton warns.

He adds: “If we don’t know what we are transporting, we cannot take the necessary precautions. We cannot ensure the haulier takes rest breaks in secure parking facilities. We cannot advise our customers that their goods have a value exceeding CMR liability. And we cannot ensure that the packaging for your cornflakes wouldn’t get loaded adjacent to a Class 6.1 toxic chemical.”

Ital Logistics has designed software to include commodity categories and, where any type of product could be considered as high value, the customer gets an automated additional note regarding insurance and the haulier is also instructed accordingly. The same applies to fragile goods that should not be stacked, for example. And where goods need to be treated as foodstuffs, both haulier and warehouse are automatically notified.

However, warns Denton: “If we don’t know what we are transporting, then, I repeat, we cannot take the relevant precautions.”

While some people might fail to declare goods properly because they, misguidedly, believe that it can help disguise theft-attractive goods, Denton suspects that it has simply become habitual since the ending of customs formalities. But he warns that following Brexit and the re-imposition of customs clearances for goods moving between the UK and EU from 1 January 2021, requiring shippers to provide full descriptions of goods and full documentation, for which they would be well advised to start preparing now.