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Abandoned Shipping Containers

04.03.2014 - Posted by Updated On 04.03.2014    

Reality television shows like Container Wars have made the idea of buying abandoned shipping containers very popular; popular to the point where many people are under the perception that there are hundreds of unclaimed, abandoned shipping containers at every port in the country. Fortunately for shipping and logistics companies, and their consignees, this isn't the case.

To start, if a shipping container has yet to clear customs, and any import taxes have not been paid, it is US Customs that would auction off the cargo. The short version goes like this: Importers have 20 days to clear cargo with customs. On the 15th day Customs informs the carrier that the goods will soon be subject to general order. If the cargo still isn't cleared, there is a Permit to Transfer filed and the goods are moved to a general warehouse. At this time, the carrier files a lien for their costs, as well as the transfer and storage costs, and unless the cargo is hazardous or perishable it sits in this warehouse for six months. During this period the consignee can pay any outstanding money owed and claim their cargo. At the end of six months the cargo goes to auction and the proceeds of the auction are used to pay all duties, taxes, fees and storage costs at the general order warehouse. Any money remaining goes to the lienholders, in this case the shipping line.

How do Shipping Containers Become Abandoned?

Once a shipping container has cleared customs and is at the dock or depot there is a set period of time that it must be moved from the site, typically this period of time is ten days. If there's no action on the container in ten days, the carrier must notify the appropriate parties documented on the bill of lading and provide removal instructions. Assuming the cargo is not collected, the next step is for the carrier to obtain an abandon and indemnification letter from the consignee confirming their intention of abandoning the cargo and releasing ownership. Once ownership is released to the carrier, the carrier has a number of options available.

  • Unpack the containers, and return the container into service.
  • Reposition the container into bonded storage.
  • Sell or auction the cargo, using the proceeds to offset their costs.
  • Return the cargo the point of origin.
  • Destroy the contents (if hazardous or dangerous in some way)

Why do Shipping Containers Become Abandoned?

Shipping containers can be abandoned for any number of reasons, the most obvious reason being that the consignee files for bankruptcy and the goods are lost in the cracks during the closing of the company. Another scenario for an abandoned container could be a dispute between the shipping line or freight forwarder and the consignee. Any delay in shipping typically incurs costs by someone, either in terms of storage, transportation, or services. If these costs get too expensive, it could make more financial sense for the shipper to walk away from the cargo and start over again.

How to Find Abandoned Shipping Containers

Buying abandoned shipping containers isn't an easy game to get into. Each shipping lines has a set protocol on how they deal with abandoned shipping containers, and their primary goal is recovering their costs and getting their equipment back into service. It must also be noted that there are often banks involved in the trade finance, and the banks main interest in the event of a bankruptcy is recovering their asset/cargo and getting their invested capital back. The best place to start would be finding the appropriate person at the shipping line; however each company is organized differently so there's no obvious rule of thumb for locating the contact person.

Auctioning Abandoned Shipping Containers

At this time, ContainerAuction.com is only active in auctioning empty, new and used shipping containers. Due to current state and federal legislation there are several issues that need to be addressed that would allow this to happen, however we have not completely ruled it out in the future.

With regards to the mysterious contents of abandoned shipping containers, this is rarely (if ever) the case. When the container is loaded there is a specific bill of lading that outlines all of the contents of the container. If it the container is sold or auctioned off the shipping line is fully aware of the contents, although they may not be aware of the condition of the contents.



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