“These guys were so amazing!”
Reliable Shippers For A Reasonable Price
Estimate moving cost in 30 seconds:
Customer Images
7790 people shipped using ThreeMovers last week

Are Shipping Containers Searched?

Published by Chris Townsend

Are Shipping Containers Searched?

Each year, more than 25 million shipping containers enter ports in the United States, which equates to approximately 48 containers each minute. In 2020, the Port of Los Angeles alone handled around 8.6 million TEUs, which made it the largest container port in the country. Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, there was a growing concern that terrorists may use containers to transport weapons of mass destruction – specifically nuclear weapons – into the United States. To diminish this threat, the U.S. government implemented a number of security measures regarding shipping containers.

This brings us to the question at hand: Are shipping containers searched?

Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), does scan every single shipping container that enters into the country by land or by sea. A passive radiation monitor is used to detect radiation in the containers. However, only about 5% of all the shipping containers that enter through U.S. ports undergo physical inspection. In Europe, this percentage is estimated to be even lower!

Regardless, US Customs and Border Protection have to right to search any imported container. So, if your container is physically inspected, it could be because of suspicion or it was simply chosen at random.

What is Cargo Scanning?

Also known as non-intrusive inspection (NII), cargo scanning describes non-destructive means of examining goods in transportation systems and is commonly used to inspect intermodal shipping containers. Led by the Department of Homeland Security and their Container Security Initiative, the goal was to reach one hundred percent cargo scanning by the year 2012. This was advised by the 9/11 Commission and then required by Congress.

In 2009, roughly 80% of all US incoming shipping containers were scanned. However, there was a long hiatus regarding this 100 percent scanning requirement and it did not resume until 2016. At this point, it is unclear whether or not they’ve reached their one hundred percent scanning goal of all inbound containers to the U.S.

The main purpose of cargo scanning is to sense “special nuclear materials” SNMs), but it is also used to detect any sort of suspicious cargo.

Are Shipping Containers Physically Searched?

With the over 25 million shipping containers that the U.S. receives each year –11 million of those by ocean and truck and 3 million by rail – you can imagine how difficult it would be to physical inspect every container. Physical inspection could overwhelm the ports and effectively bring the entire entry process to a stand-still. For this reason, Customs and Border Protection only physically inspects about 3% of ocean, 34% of truck, and 90% of rail containers.

While cargo screening prevents an increased security risk compared to physical inspection, it’s a worthwhile tradeoff to help keep a steady flow of freight. Although these statistics are drastically low, CBP has the right to examine any imported shipping container. Even if your shipment was simply chosen at random, as the shipper, you are responsible for the cost of the inspection.

That said, here are some of the many reasons why your container might end up being marked for physical inspection:

  • This is your first time importing and US Customs has chosen to inspect your first couple shipments to verify credibility.
  • The cargo you are shipping requires specific permits.
  • The weight of your shipping container does match up to the packing list.

With these reasons in mind, you can see why it’s so important to ensure that your packing list is accurate and you’ve done everything according to the books. Unfortunately, aside from doing everything properly and hoping for the best, there really is no way to guarantee that your shipping container avoids being searched.

Types of US Customs Holds

You’ve filled out all the necessary forms, packed your container perfectly, and everything seems to be going as planned. But, just before your shipping container is scheduled to be released into your custody, you get the worst possible news from your carrier – your shipping container has been put on hold for further inspection.

When a container gets to its destination port, US Customs will assign it a “score”. Depending on how high this score is, the likelihood of them reviewing or examining the shipment is increased. Whether the shipment is full-container load or less-than-container load, if customs has decided to inspect your container for any reason, both the cost of the exam and any pertinent fees are the responsibility of the importer.

That said, here are the four main possible holds that may be directed by US Customs:

  1. Manifest Hold: This hold is placed on containers that have an incorrect manifest.
  2. CET Hold: This hold is placed by the Anti-Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team (A-TCET) when they suspect that a container might be housing illegal contraband.
  3. PGA/ Commercial Enforcement Hold: This is a hold that Participating Government Agencies (PGAs) – such as USDA, CPSC, FDA etc. – that regulate products that enter the country might put on a container to verify that it is adhering to specific guidelines.
  4. Statistical Validation Hold: This hold is placed on shipping containers where the goods on the manifest do not correspond to the anticipated weight, value, etc.

While the shipping container is on hold, for any of the above reasons, there are a number of fees you may incur, like demurrage fees (per day), admin fees, row fees, and shifting fees.

Shipping A Container To Antigua Deps 5

US Customs Exams

Once customs has concluded investigating the container that was put on hold, they will either release the container or choose to inspect it further. When the latter happens, there are three main exams that they will perform in order to decide whether they will release or confiscate a container and its contents:

  1. The X-Ray Exam (VACIS exam): This is the first type of exam that will generally occur. It involves the cargo going through an X-ray machine at the terminal. The photos will be examined and then they will choose to either release the container or perform the next type of exam.
  2. The Tail Gate Exam: This involves the shipment being investigated at the port. The container is opened and the contents are physically inspected. If everything is as expected, the container will be released. If not, the shipment will be escalated to the final stage.
  3. The Intensive Exam: In this case, the container is taken to a Customs Exam Site (CES), where the contents are removed. A certified agent will completely empty the container, separate the items, open up boxes, and prep all of the cargo for a customs officer to do a thorough inspection.

When holds and exams happen, they are certainly the most infuriating part about the import process. Not only do they take a lot of time, they can get very expensive, very quickly. The best way to ensure that your shipment is stopped and inspected is to be as thorough as possible from the get go.

Have more questions about cargo scanning or shipping container inspections? Reach out to the experts at Three Movers today!

cbp a-tcet

Chris Townsend is a moving professional and relocation expert that has more than 10 years of experience in the moving industry. With a background that includes working in virtually every aspect of the company, he has distinguished himself as an integral part of our operations with expertise in all things related to moving. Chris has a keen eye for detail and brings intelligence and passion to every project he’s involved with.

While getting his degree in communications from Santa Clara University, Chris started out with the company working in the field as part of our team of professional moving associates. Following graduation, he was promoted to our main office, where he has thrived in a role that involves increasing responsibility and requires him to wear many different hats. Some days, you may find him answering the phone and providing moving estimates, others he may be writing for our moving blog, and another day he may be coordinating a large corporate moving job or helping us with our marketing efforts. Chris has authored many of our in-depth moving guides, as well as provided our clients with information and advice to handle the complexities of their upcoming moving plans. Simply put, there’s nothing he can’t do and we wouldn’t be where we are today without him.

Email Me

4.8/5 average star rating

Do You Want To Get Your Quote Instantly?

Get your quote and answer any questions you have by calling us:

Female Customer
© Copyright 2024 ThreeMovers.com