The 1997 IMO/ILO/UNECE “Guidelines for packing of cargo transport units (CTUs)” (1997 Guidelines) are being replaced by the new IMO/ILO/UNECE Code of Practice for the packing of CTUs (CTU Code), which is fairly comprehensive in nature. It imposes key common sense requirements upon many parties, including:

  • Arrange for a safe working environment.
  • Check that the CTU and any securing equipment are in sound condition.
  • Select the most appropriate CTU type for the specific cargo.
  • Pack dangerous goods near the doors of the CTU where possible.
  • Do not concentrate heavy cargo over small areas of the floor.
  • Do not use securing or protection equipment which is incompatible with the cargo.
  • Affix required placards, marks and signs on the exterior of the CTU.

In order to counter an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ culture, the CTU Code sets out a clear chain of responsibility. This chain attaches specific obligations to the various parties in the maritime supply chain: consignor, packer, shipper, road haulier, rail haulier and consignee. This is a positive change, as where the cause of the cargo damage can be identified then authorities will more easily be able to impose liability on a particular party. It is hoped that the increased likelihood of accountability will promote higher standards of CTU transportation.

The CTU Code will be one step behind a mandatory UN instrument. It has been approved by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and received approval by the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee earlier this year. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) approved the CTU Code earlier this month and accordingly the CTU Code will be officially published1 and replace the 1997 Guidelines. Critics however argue that as a code of practice it has little weight within the industry.

Nevertheless, it is hoped that legislators around the world will acknowledge the benefits of the CTU Code and enshrine its recommendations into domestic law, or at least use the CTU Code as evidence of best practice when CTU claims arrive at court. Bill Brassington, a consultant to the CTU Code notes that, “Codes of practice are intended to assist governments and employers in drawing up regulations and can be used as models for national legislation.”

The CTU Code will enhance the safety not only of employees who come into direct contact with CTU but also the safety of the cargo that is transported within them. If weight is distributed more evenly and cargo is properly secured in the CTU then it is likely that vehicle rollovers and consequential injuries and fatalities will fall drastically and reduce the frequent occurrence of damage to cargo. The need to properly pack a CTU cannot be stressed enough and failure to distribute and secure cargo appropriately will more than likely result in loss or damage to the cargo.

The economic consequences of this are not insignificant and shippers thus have a vested interest in the correct packing of their cargo to minimise losses and claims they make per shipment. Efforts to improve safety standards without legal intervention have failed to make much progress thus far. It is for this reason that the movement towards the introduction of the CTU Code to promote safer packing of CTUs is to be welcomed. This measure should promote more responsible operating and facilitate safer environments throughout the maritime supply chain. This will have the positive effect of enhancing the economic efficiency of trade as the percentage of cargo that is damaged should drop significantly.

All concerned with the transportation of CTUs should welcome the introduction of the CTU Code as it signals a change in the way those within the maritime supply chain operate. This is arguably a change that is long overdue and should bring with it visible and extensive benefits.