Container Seal Regulation

IMPORTERS FACE PENALTIES IF THEY FAIL TO MEET NEW
CONTAINER SEAL REQUIREMENTS

Effective October 15, 2008, a new seal requirement was instituted by U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), specifying that all ocean containers entering the United States be secured with a high-security seal meeting ISO/ PAS 17712 standards (International Organization for Standardization Publicly Available Specification 17712).

The ISO/ PAS 17712 standards require seals to “meet or exceed certain standards for strength and durability so as to prevent accidental breakage, early deterioration (due to weather conditions, chemical action, etc.) or undetectable tampering under normal usage. ISO/PAS 17712 also requires that each seal be clearly and legibly marked with a unique identification number.” For access to the full text of the Federal Register notice, please utilize the following links:

http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/E8-18174.htm (html version) or http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/pdf/E8-18174.pdf (pdf version).

This new seal rule, which now applies to all importers, regardless of C-TPAT (Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism) status or membership, has been a requirement for C-TPAT members since its inception in 2001. (This is found under the “Container Security, General” section of the C-TPAT Security Profile).

The burden of ensuring that high-security seals are utilized on import containers now falls on the importer, even if the importer is a C-TPAT member. The importer is the party that CBP will hold responsible, should an import container be found lacking a high-security seal. (CBP may assess civil penalties for violations of the container seal requirements.)

Understanding which party is responsible for affixing the high-security seal to the container will enable the importer to confirm the use of high-security seals.

  1. IMPORTER: The importer supplies seals to its foreign suppliers and/or foreign consolidators.
  2. OCEAN CONTAINER LINE: The ocean container line provides one seal with every empty container.
  3. It is the responsibility of the importer to confirm that high-security seals are utilized. If the ocean container line is a C-TPAT member, you can have a high degree of confidence that high-security seals are utilized. If the ocean container line is not a C-TPAT member, a clause should be included in the contractual agreement when rates are negotiated.
  4. FOREIGN SUPPLIER: The foreign supplier picks the consolidator and/or ocean container line.
  5. It is the responsibility of the importer to confirm with the foreign supplier, how seals are obtained. The importer should require that the foreign supplier provide written documentation as to how the seals are obtained, along with seal specifications and/or a sample seal.
  6. FOREIGN CONSOLIDATOR: The foreign consolidator picks the ocean container line.
    It is the responsibility of the importer to confirm with the foreign consolidator, how seals are obtained. The importer should require that the foreign consolidator provide written documentation as to how the seals are obtained, along with seal specifications and/or a sample seal.
  7. FREIGHT-FORWARDER: The freight-forwarder picks the consolidator and/or ocean container line.

It is the responsibility of the importer to confirm with the freight-forwarder, how seals are obtained. The importer should require that the freight-forwarder provide written documentation as to how the seals are obtained, along with seal specifications and/or a sample seal.

When an import ocean container is received (opened) in the U.S., it is the responsibility of the importer to ensure that a high-security seal was utilized. If the importer is not receiving the cargo directly (e.g.: it is sent directly to a customer or to a third-party warehouse), the importer must communicate the steps listed below to the party that physically receives the container.

The employee responsible for cutting/removing the seal from an ocean container must verify the physical seal number against an anticipated seal number. (e.g.: manifest, BOL, internal document, etc.) The anticipated seal number should be obtained in advance of the container’s arrival. The anticipated seal number should not be obtained from the paperwork that the driver presents upon delivering the container.

Before cutting/removing the seal from the ocean container, the employee should visually inspect the seal, and then physically pull/tug on the seal to ensure that it has not been tampered with (glued or welded back together).

Under no circumstances should the driver be the person responsible for physically cutting/removing the seal or verifying the seal number.

If the seal is low-grade (not a high-security seal), a designated employee should be responsible for contacting the party responsible for loading the ocean container (foreign supplier or consolidator) and informing them of this transgression. We recommend that you contact the seal manufacturer if you are unsure if a seal meets the ISO/ PAS 17712 standards.

If the seal number does not match or the seal and/or container appears to have been compromised, a designated employee should be responsible for contacting CBP.

In the event that there is a problem with the shipment, CBP will want to inspect the seal. Therefore, CBP highly recommends that cut/removed seals be saved, along with the corresponding paperwork, for 6 months.

Most importantly; if an ocean container arrives without a seal or without a high-security seal, CBP may not only assess civil penalties (fines) against the importer, but will also hold up the container. The latter may be more detrimental to an importer than a possible fine, since it may result in cancelled orders due to the failure to meet delivery dates.

For access to CBP’s Container & Seal Inspection Workshop booklet, please utilize the following link: http://normanjaspanassociates.com/seals.html. This booklet is an excellent educational tool. We recommend that you print it and keep a copy in your receiving department.

For more information regarding the new seal requirements or how the C-TPAT program incorporates the seal requirements, please contact us.

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