TT Talk - Improving container standards

In 2011 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) agreed a two-year output on 'Development of measures to prevent loss of containers', in part arising from the 'Lashing@Sea' project report. VGM was one of the results; here are some others.

MARIN (the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands) reported in IMO's safety subcommittee in September 2010 on the


project. Amongst the report recommendations was a call that cargo securing designs and standards be improved, having found that in most cases containers and their corner castings are the weakest link. Consequently, the IMO requested that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) review those standards.

ISO 1161:2016 (Series 1 – Corner and intermediate fittings – Specification)

The review of this standard includes revised load values, strength requirements, interior wall thicknesses to the blind walls of the corner fittings and a new clause and annex covering tests and testing methodology. These changes will ensure the corner and intermediate fittings strength and that they are capable of handling the expected forces generated on board an ultra large container ship. Importantly, there are three new requirements.

  1. Manufacturers are now responsible for ensuring that quantities of undesirable elements in the raw material are kept to an absolute minimum. The correct mix of raw materials to ensure compliance with the strength requirements and weldability must be used, and miscellaneous scrap in the mixture is not permitted. 
  2. If any defects in the corner or intermediate fittings are detected by visual examination or non-destructive testing, the fittings are to be destroyed. This is a major change. Previously manufacturers were permitted to repair cracks and deficiencies.
  3. At least 2% of each batch of fittings produced are to be tested. Fittings are to be selected randomly by the Classification Society witnessing the production and each tested fitting should show no permanent deformation. Tests are now to include a full dimensional check - external as well as aperture and placement dimensions.

Corner and intermediate fittings produced after July 2016 and complying with ISO 1161:2016 should meet the expected forces associated with the largest ships. However, there is concern that, unless the buyer specifically requests corner and intermediate fitting to this latest standard, the older and now withdrawn version standard (ISO 1161:1994) will still be used. The risk remains that the supplied fittings may not have been properly tested or comply with the revised strength requirements.

“concern that, unless the buyer specifically requests corner and intermediate fittings to this latest standard, the older and now withdrawn version standard still will be used”

ISO 3874 (Series 1 freight containers – Handling and securing)

As with ISO 1161, this standard has undergone considerable editing and new content has been added. Notable among the changes is the inclusion of fully automatic twistlocks and automatic container locks (the latter have no twisting element, nor any moving parts).

Within the standard there are a number of tests which all container interconnectors must pass and, in the case of the automatic designs, these include a functional test. This is designed to ensure the twistlock / lock remains connected under the expected forces due to rolling, heaving and whipping at sea.

Another significant change concerns lashing gear used to secure containers on board ships. New annexes have been created to cover the design and strength requirements of container securing fittings. The revised standard will provide a selection of tests for all lashing gear that reflects the forces of ultra large container ships stacking to 11 high on deck.

The standard is currently undergoing final editing and should be published shortly. However, while those elements of the standard that relate to maritime transport has been revised, the sections covering other surface modes (road and rail) will be subject to a new work item, due to begin shortly.

ISO 6346:1995 (Freight containers -- Coding, identification and marking)

While not falling under the IMO work output, there has been collaborative work between the UN agencies in relation to ISO 6346. Following an incident on board 'Annabella'  (see TT Talk 171) when a European Swapbody collapsed, the IMO similarly approached the ISO seeking a solution to identify containers with reduced stacking and / or racking strength.

Amendments were made to the International Convention for Safe Containers (CSC) requiring all containers with a stacking capability of less than 192,000kg to be marked in accordance with ISO 6346, which now calls for such containers to have a different Size / Type code, changing the last character from a numeral to a letter.

The result is that stakeholders (stow planners, terminal operatives etc) can identify 'weaker' containers, not just electronically but by visible markings. CSC now requires that all containers with reduced stacking and / or racking capabilities are remarked.

IMO allowed a 30-month period before the amendment to CSC entered into force, in the hope that container operators would make the changes to the marking in conjunction with a regular CSC examination. However, three and a half years later, containers with reduced stacking are still being used for international transport without having been remarked.

“containers with reduced stacking are still being used for international transport without having been remarked”

The technical experts who sit on such working groups have the expectation that changes result in improved safety and reduced risk. It is incumbent on the users of the standards to adopt and act on those changes, to improve safety in the supply chain.

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance in the preparation of this article of Bill Brassington of ETS Consulting, a member of the ISO Technical Committee 104 on Containers.

We hope that you have found the above interesting. If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any colleagues who you may feel would be interested.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox

Risk Management Director, TT Club

Staff Author

TT Club