Dangerous goods violations are finally getting pricey

dangerous goods label on drum next to pallet stacked barrels

Finally, after a lot of talking and saber-rattling, the logistics industry is starting to step up to make DG violations hit where it hurts the most: the bank account. Of course, this is only for those violations that are in fact, discovered. Several ocean carriers have started to add penalties for DG violations to their tariffs. In my humble opinion, that is a great step toward eradicating this kind of issue, and a courageous one too. But keep in mind, this is only for a limited group of carriers, not the group as a whole. To make this endeavor a true success, every carrier needs to get on board. Otherwise, this can present an opportunity for rogue shippers to only utilize those carriers that do not issue penalties in order to keep their profit margins high. It has to be a unified front by every carrier, in order for this to work. 

Now, another potential issue that this will bring up is the fact that rogue shippers or shippers that made a mistake now have even less incentive to report undeclared or mis-declared cargoes.  

What do I mean by that?  Well, I am aware of at least one carrier that will penalize a shipper if that shipper requests a manifest correction to a DG Bill of Lading (B/L) or to change a B/L to show as DG, and these penalties are substantial. That shipper or forwarder may think “Packing Group I or Packing Group II, no big difference” or “Flashpoint 35 Fahrenheit or 35 Celsius, just about the same”, and not request a manifest correction, because of this penalty. That would be a huge problem because there is a big difference between a flashpoint in Fahrenheit and Celsius Centigrade, or between Packing Group I and II, the list goes on and on.  Well, this difference could truly be the difference between life and death (worst case scenario). Yes, I am in favor of these type of penalties, but, my dear carrier, please take a look at the reason for the manifest correction request. If this request is to correct an obviously unintentional error, use good judgment. Is this really what you want to penalize, and potentially discourage honest people from doing the right thing?  I don’t think that this is your intent.  However, if it is clear that the shipper did try to get away with not declaring the DG or mis-declaring the freight to obtain a better freight rate, then I say, by all means, please go for it.

This is a great first step, and a courageous one too, but more needs to happen to make shipping and transporting DG as safe as it can be. Unfortunately, accidents can and will happen no matter how much we do to prevent those. Now, reading through various blogs and articles, I see quite often where writers state that the freight forwarders should do more to catch these "mistakes", before they go on the ship or airplane. To me, that is a point of frustration, because we (the freight forwarder) do everything that we can to find mistakes or oversights and have them corrected before the freight goes on the conveyance, or before we submit the documentation to the carrier, but in some cases, we are not in a position to catch these. We have to rely on the shipper to give us the proper and correct information. If the shipper wants to deceive us, they will, and we don't know better, unless I, or the carrier goes down to the pier or airport and takes a sample of the freight and has it analyzed, or if the packages are marked differently from the information given to us. (This would be in the case the freight comes through one of my warehouses.) In most of the shipments, the shipper loads the container, and I do not see the freight, my hands are tied, and there is very little that I can do to catch a violation or oversight. BDP and the vast majority of my esteemed competitors are doing everything in our power to ship cargo in full compliance with all applicable regulations, but again, there is only so much that we can do.  

The industry made the first step, now, our governments need to follow suit and start harmonizing and coordinating their efforts and actions to put up a unified front and make mis-declared or undeclared DG cargo a thing of the past.