Shipping Containers

A container, basically, is a thing for holding stuff – whether it is milk, metal bolts, laundry, or any of a hundred other items and materials. Containers – for this reason – are also the large steel boxes one sees on the back of long distance haulers, railway trucks, and ships. Generally speaking, all imported merchandise, or at least that which comes by sea-freight, will arrive in a container. About 90% of the world’s non-bulk cargo is moved by containerization. The largest container ships are now nearly half a kilometre long.1

As a sea-faring nation, the Republic has a large merchant shipping industry, exports huge quantities of produce, and is also significantly reliant on imported merchandise of all types and sizes. Because this business of containerization is so international, there is an international agreement which governs a lot of its affairs, and establishes standards to maintain high levels of safety in the handling, stacking and transporting of containers. This is called the International Convention for Safe Containers. The Merchant Shipping (Safe Containers Convention) Act 2011 implements a number of its terms as being law in the Republic.

A. Inspectors

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) can appoint inspectors to examine the condition of containers, their applicable documentation (such as Safety Approval Plates) and so on. These inspectors have extensive powers to board vessels and vehicles, require assistance, ask questions, and call for documents.

  1. It is a crime to obstruct or hinder an inspector in the performance of his duties.2

  2. You commit an offence if you give any false or misleading information to an inspector – whether orally or in writing.3

  3. The owner or person in charge of any vessel or premises boarded or entered by an inspector in the performance of his duties must give all reasonable assistance to enable him to execute his functions, and commits an offence if he fails to do so.4

  4. It is also an offence for that person not to provide any information that the inspector may reasonably require.5

  5. If a container has been detained by an inspector, it is a criminal offence to remove it, or to interfere with it in any way.6

B. General offences

  1. The Act makes it a crime to contravene any of its provisions.7 Other than those referred to above, there are none which appear applicable, save that there are Regulations which might create prohibitions, and also the Convention.
  1. Wikipedia – ‘Container Ships’. There is a maximum size, not dictated by man’s ability to build big ships, but by the harbours that have to receive these monsters, the loading times and so forth. 

  2. Section 8(1) read with section 11(1). 

  3. Section 8(2) read with section 11(1). 

  4. Section 7(2) read with section 11(1). 

  5. Section 7(2) read with section 11(1). 

  6. Section 8(3) read with section 11(1). 

  7. Section 11(1).