Are bugs and parasites the next big problem for global shipping?

Are bugs and parasites the next big problem for global shipping?


4 minute read | By Detype Studio

Last updated: January 16, 2024 | Published: July 17, 2019



How can bugs and parasites be an issue for global shipping and eco-systems since the containers are sealed? The answer is ‘outside the box’.

The external part of the shipping container is a means of transport for bugs, parasites and other invasive non-native species. These creatures can spread around the world as they travel with the cargo, and contribute to the demise of local eco-diversity. 

With containers making approximately 200 million trips per year, you can see how easy it is to transport bugs and parasites to areas of the world you wouldn’t naturally find them. 

According to the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat, invasive non-native species are any animal or plant that can spread and cause damage to the environment, economy and our health and includes any part, gametes, seeds, eggs, or propagules that might survive and subsequently reproduce. 

“It’s a big issue,” said James Hookham, secretary general of the Global Shippers Forum (GSF). “There is heightened anxiety that contaminating species are travelling on containers via bird poo, snails and parasites.” 

How does this affect global shipping? 

Should the shipping industry take responsibility for the global spread of invasive non-native species since containers can transport bugs and parasites, which can create risks to human health and local economies, such as agriculture? 

One way to minimise the risk of transporting invasive non-native species is to mandate cleaning the outside of shipping containers. But is it that simple? 

Shipping containers can be contaminated anywhere – a yard, a chassis, the terminal. Legislating that the outside of containers should be washed could be a big challenge and also result in significant financial implications for carriers, port operators and shippers alike.  

According to the Loadstar, in October 2018, the Global Shippers Forum (GSF) held meetings with the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) to discuss the complex issue of legislating the cleaning of the outside of containers.  

“We want to help the IPPC understand how complex it would be to legislate on the cleaning of the outside of containers, and instead promote awareness of the issue through self-regulation,” added Mr Hookham, speaking at the TIACA ACF in Toronto in October. 

Sean Van Dort, chairman of the GSF board, noted that shipping lines already add a “washing charge” for the inside of a container of between $25 and $75. “We do not want an inside and outside washing charge. We want an all-in rate that would include it. You don’t see passengers on an aircraft paying extra for fumigation in countries where it is required.” 

concern for shippers is that this gives ocean carriers another opportunity to impose additional charges on the shipper when additional costs are already prevalent, such as the new Marine Fuel Recovery Surcharge. 

The GSF is campaigning for an all-in rate that is only levied against the contracted buyer of shipping line services.

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