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If My Cargo Is Not Adequately Insured, What Is My Exposure?

Insuring cargo for international transport is very different from other forms of property insurance. There is an entire body of law, known as Admiralty Law, that has evolved around marine transportation. The coverage found in a marine cargo policy (which also covers international shipments by air) is written to insure against the many perils that may be faced during international transport. These include perils specific to case law that has been developed and tested throughout history. Most marine policies therefore add clauses to cover concepts unique to Admiralty law. Many of these risks are not contemplated by riders attached to property covers that attempt to protect goods in transit. As such, these riders fall short of the mark.

De Facto Self-Insurance
Self-insurance is a common fallback position for companies that move international cargo without the benefit of a marine policy. Whether mindfully done or not, moving cargo without adequate insurance coverage is de facto self-insurance; or at the very least, co-insurance—in cases where minimal insurance is in place but not written on the broad-form needed to provide truly adequate coverage. Even when using Incoterms correctly, where the responsibility to insure is with the other party, there may be exposure regarding difference in coverage for perils not specifically named in the transactional policy. Importers and exporters are cautioned to assess the risks and evaluate for adequate marine coverage.

General Average
A good example of an arcane concept fully covered by only a marine policy is General Average. It commonly occurs in cases where something happens to the conveyance, necessitating sacrifice of some of the cargo in order for the voyage to successfully continue. This might happen if a vessel is grounded or if a fire breaks out onboard. In either case, tugboats may need to be employed or the vessel may need to be taken to another port for repairs and inspection. Under such circumstances, the carrier would declare General Average as a mechanism to attach risk-sharing to all cargo interests aboard the vessel. After declaring General Average, a vessel operator would typically ask each cargo owner for a deposit based on their cargo’s prorated value to the venture, with the goal of covering the cost of any other cargo damaged or extraordinary expenses incurred by the operator while saving the voyage. The self-insured cargo owner and the vessel operator would then continue correspondence on this issue for an average of about ten years, until all expenditures have been discharged. Based on this scenario, General Average could prove very costly and time consuming for the self-insured. Not so for the shipper covered by a broad-form policy, who would have their insurer attend to these matters on their behalf.

Other Types of Coverage
Other types of marine coverage include:

  • Institute Cargo Clauses A, B, and C; with A being the broadest coverage and C being the most restrictive.
  • Free of Particular Average, which is bare-bones insurance, covering total loss only. Without the benefit of a broad-form marine policy, such ex tensions or limitations might not be adequately addressed or defined, leaving the cargo owner with substantial exposure.

A good risk management program will usually uncover these idiosyncrasies of international transport and protect against them. Many companies employ the services of a marine insurance broker to set up the right program. Other companies may rely on the services and expertise of their freight forwarder or Customs broker to secure adequate coverage.

Mohawk Global Trade Advisors can help you identify the many risks involved in international cargo transportation, the extent of liability that might be incurred, and the possible solutions available to minimize that risk. Click here to learn more about our risk management services.

By Rich Roche, Vice President. Click here to read more about Rich.

©2014 Mohawk Global Trade Advisors

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It’s Raining… Inside My Container!?

Have you ever encountered this scenario? “My container arrived and the cargo inside is wet. There are no holes in the container and the interior stinks of mold and mildew. It also looks like it’s raining from the ceiling of the container. How did this happen?”

Container rain drips onto boxed cargo.

Container rain drips onto boxed cargo.

If your container was loaded in a tropical environment, where the air was warm and humid, then shipped to the United States, where temperatures were far cooler, your cargo may have experienced a phenomenon known as “cargo sweat” or “container rain.” Differences in temperature of as much as 50°C can occur at certain times of the year between tropical regions and the cooler, temperate climate of the U.S. As the outside temperature drops, the container’s contents cool, causing hygroscopic or moisture absorbing cargo and packing materials to release water vapor. The cool temperature inside the container prevents the water vapor from being absorbed into the air. This happens as the temperature of the container’s top and side panels falls below the dew point of the air trapped within the container, and like the dew running down a glass of iced tea on a hot summer’s day, condensation or “sweat” begins to form on the cargo and the inner ceiling and walls of the container. If there is enough moisture riding along with your cargo and packing materials, given the right heating and cooling cycles in the container, the vapor release could be so significant that it would seem to be “raining” from the ceiling.

"Sweat" appears on the inside of a shrink wrapped pallet.

“Sweat” has formed on the inside of a shrink wrapped pallet.

As warm, moist air is cooled below its dew point, water vapor in the air is transformed to condensation, sometimes in large enough amounts that it penetrates the same packing materials the vapor was released from. Water from the ceiling may fall directly on the cargo or drip down the walls, pool on the floor, and be reabsorbed by the cargo or packing materials. The resulting damage will be attributed to the inherent vice of the cargo or packing materials, and may not be covered by filing a cargo claim.

To avoid cargo sweat/container rain, there are several factors that must be considered. First, if you are loading cargo in warm and humid environments, you should understand the temperature fluctuations that your cargo may be subjected to for any given voyage. Next, you should understand the hygroscopic or moisture absorbing properties of your cargo and the material used to package it. Cargo with a high fibrous construction (such as cotton, apparel, jewelry boxes, etc.) will hold a certain amount of moisture at origin that can be released under the right cooling conditions. If your cargo and packaging are not hygroscopic, then you have little to worry about. Lastly, the type and amount of cardboard used can greatly contribute to moisture release.

If your factors are such that there is a high probability of sweat or rain, you may want to consider using desiccant in the container to wick moisture from the air before it becomes a problem for your cargo. For the best results, desiccant bags should be hung evenly throughout the container. Most desiccant manufacturers have guidelines for their products that will help you determine the type and number of units to deploy.

Ventilation is another fix; although ventilated containers are hard to come by and typically committed to specific bulk cargo that originates in the tropics, such as coffee, seeds, beans and nuts. If transporting retail goods, you will be better served by hanging desiccants.

Plastic barriers used to enclose inner packing can help prevent damage from cargo sweat or container rain, but must be used with caution since they may also trap moisture inside—particularly if they enclose hygroscopic cargo or packing materials. The best policy is to use a plastic barrier on the innermost confines of cargo that is not hygroscopic. An example of this would be electronics wrapped in plastic, supported in styrofoam, and contained within a carton. Since the electronics are not hygroscopic, the plastic barrier protects against water coming from the outside without fear of trapping vapor on the inside.

You may not be able to prevent cargo sweat or container rain, but by paying attention to the details of your shipment, you may be able to reduce the likelihood of their occurrence.

MGTA helps companies identify, manage, and mitigate risk in their supply chain. Click here to learn more about our risk management services.

By Rich Roche, Vice President. Click here to read more about Rich.

© 2013 Mohawk Global Trade Advisors

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Mohawk Global Trade Advisors, a division of Mohawk Global Logistics © 2016