Prevent international shipping mishaps with these important tips

In a previous blog post, I divulged on a preventable fiasco that was initiated from the shipper’s missteps and self-inflicted outcomes that unfortunately affected other parties. In fairness, errors of all sorts can come from your forwarders or their associates, so vetting the best team isn’t a task to be taken lightly.

With the shipping act that was ratified and enacted by Congress in May of 2017, delays in deliveries of your shipments are not claimable. However, some international forwarders will go to the end of the world to rectify any error in routing a shipment to the wrong destination country.


Your licensed freight forwarders can carry a variety of policies. General liability is one thing, but we are not talking about leaving your cargo under the rain or anything relating to damages in this blog… but other policies, such as Error and Omission and Forwarders’ Liability, which exist to protect shippers from human error.

So, I recommend checking with your shipping companies if they are properly insured, which is something you should be able to find on their website.

Congo, Central Africa. Durban, South Africa

“Congo is bounded to the northwest by Cameroon, to the North by the Central African Republic, to the East and South by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to the Southwest by the Angolan exclave of Cabinda, and to the West by Gabon” (source)

Why Do I Care?

In most scenarios, shipments are booked with the carriers according to the documentation and markings (labeled freight). So most forwarders book ocean shipments through an NVOCC (view it as a wholesaler of space) that receives, weighs, checks the exact dimensions of the shipments, and stages the cargo matching the booking information destination.

Geography & Labeling Matter

In today’s scenario, there were two shipments dispatched to the same warehouse from the same forwarder under two separate bookings, consigned to 2 distinct consignees. The warehouse, after checking the number of boxes per shipment, mixed their African destinations. Unfortunately, only when the shipments make it to one of the two consignees, can your forwarder find the problem.

From the get go, I recommend that all shippers have every single box labelled with the booking number and the consignee’s info. When boxes are palletized, add 4 large labels to each side with the same info showing on your boxes.

If a shipper delivers on their own, a truck-bill needs to be issued reflecting the booking number and destination info. Forwarders providing a trucking service will issue the prepared truck bill. Once the shipment departed, shippers receive a bill of lading / house airwaybill with all pertinent info on the legal document, shippers must check the documents.

The Only Fix

Your international shipping company will need to retrieve the wrong delivery and re-ship it to the correct one. Unfortunately, the delays are not claimable (see shipping act).

Mishaps + Missteps = Losses

When forwarders experience one box out of many missing, warehouse searches can take one to a few days. If a shipment left with one missing box and all documentation reflect a different number of boxes, the customs receiving the shipment may not clear. Additional storage may apply, etc. Again, the good forwarder will assume the error and fix the problem, the best it can.

Concluding on a Good Note!

Past blogs emphasized good packing, labeling, packing list and the commercial invoice. Your international shipping company should give you a draft (ETC Intl. Freight System does) before the shipment leaves for you to review in detail, making sure that all information is correct. If you approve of it, you are responsible for any problem deriving from that document.

Where is the good note? Well, these problems are seldom and far in-between. Remember that any customs can require to inspect your shipment and that will create additional inspection charges that can be paid to customs directly. So, you should always be expecting the unexpected from time to time.

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