A container seal is a tamper-evident security seal that provides a barrier on heavy-duty entry points. Container seals are made to withstand harsh weather conditions and safeguard the container on its journey. Each seal has a unique identification number, and can only be broken once.
Benefits of Container Seals
Container Seals are typically a heavy-duty security device which provides both tamper-evident indication and a robust barrier to entry into sealed cargo. Whilst they are not strictly tamper proof in their application, they provide quality protective measures and aid in preventing and reducing theft and fraudulent activity.
The view of a sealed container should act as a deterrent to potential thieves. They also provide a visual indication to shipping personnel that the goods remain sealed and have not suffered any manipulation. The seal gives the customer a guarantee that the goods have not been opened since their initial loading. When the seal is changed on the way, we should put the appropriate information on CMR (international waybill).
The driver, during the receipt of the goods, should check first whether the goods are properly sealed. We should also check the seal numbers, and any discrepancy should be reported to the person managing the transport. If your container seal is broken upon arrival, this is a sure sign that your container has been tampered with. It’s also possible that goods may have been removed, damaged or replaced. The container seal acts as proof that your box has been handled by authorised personnel.
Container seals also protect your goods from harsh weather conditions, as they make sure the doors are closed tightly, preventing the elements from getting in. This is especially important with perishable goods such as food items and medicine.
Types of Container Seals
There are many different types of container seal available. Choosing the right seal will depend on your container type, how long the route is, and what is being shipped.
1. Plastic Seals
Plastic seals are perfect for lesser cargo value and provide clear evidence of tampering. Plastic seals are often referred to as indicative seals as they are simply a visual indication of potential tampering and do not provide any barrier to entry. These seals are designed to show evidence of tampering and are not considered a form of prevention, but rather a visual identifier of tampering, thus acting as a theft deterrent. All plastic security seals can be branded, numbered and /or bar coded for extra security.
As with all seals, a closed plastic seal can’t be opened without being cut. This seal is best for short journeys, as it’s not very strong, and is easy to break.
2. Bolt Seals
These are sturdier than plastic seals, so – you guessed it – they’re harder to break. Bolt seals are made of metal (usually steel) with a plastic casing. You need a bolt cutter to break open a bolt seal. Because of their strong material composition, these seals are durable and provide an excellent level of security for shipping containers. These seals are approved internationally under ISO 17712 and C-TPAT regulations (customs anti-terrorism security in the USA).
The plastic coated bolt and locking bush are moulded as a unit and laser marked with identical sequential numbers for added security. The seals are packed in high quality clear re-closable wallets of ten seals, making it easy to remove seals singularly and then re-close the wallet. When the seal has been locked the bolt spins freely on the locking bush to confirm seal integrity. The seal can only be removed using bolt cutters.
3. Cable Seals
These seals have a steel cable and are self-locking. Cable seals are heavy-duty and, like bolt seals, can only be opened with a bolt cutter. They’re flexible and last longer than other seal types, even in unfavorable weather conditions. Cable seals are the most popular container seals in the shipping industry.
These seals are variable length and provide a high level of security through its unique locking mechanism and cable design. High security Cable Seals are easily applied by hand and can be used to secure trucks, shipping containers, tankers, railcars, valves. Once closed or cut it cannot be resealed and must also be removed with bolt cutters. This seal has successfully conformed to the stringent ISO 17712:2013 regulation.
4. Electronic Seal
An e-seal looks just like a bolt seal, but with the added benefit of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology. It has a unique ID that can be scanned through a mobile reader. This seal speeds up the customs clearance process, because it can be verified automatically.
Application, usage and removal
A standard container has two doors, each with a lock rod for security. The lock rods have handles with holes through which a seal can be attached to. The left door of the container is generally closed first, followed by the right door. So, you’re going to want to put the seal around any lock rod on the right door.
Bolt seals are made up of two separate parts which include the bolt pin and the barrel. Both parts will be attached together and have the same sequential number printed onto both of the components.
To apply the same, firstly disconnect the two pieces by snapping them in the middle so you have the two distinct pieces in each hand (bolt pin and barrel). Slide the bolt through the hole in the lock rod, and insert it into the barrel from beneath the hole. You’ll hear a ‘click’ sound as the bolt fixes itself into the barrel and is secured to the container. Check the seal by trying to pull apart the two pieces – it is not possible to detach the seal with your hands so pull as hard as you can. Once it’s locked firmly, you can only remove the seal with a bolt cutter. Metal cable seals also follow a similar application process, however the wire is threaded through the hole in the lock rod.
To remove a container seal, it must typically be cut with a bolt cutter along the length of the pin or cable. Depending on the strength of the seal, it may take several attempts to cut through it as container seals have a high cutting and tensile strength.
When removing a container seal, it is important to conduct the following checks:
- Before removing the seal, check it for wear and tear, or signs of tampering.
- The seal number should match the bill of lading number and other . If there’s evidence of tampering, the seal should only be opened once the shipping line and insurance representatives are present.
- If you see a customs seal on your container, you know that it’s been opened by customs representatives at the port. This is not a sign of tampering and is undertaken as part of a border inspection process.
Customs Requirements and ISO 17712 Regulation
The prescribed standard for container seals that is recognized worldwide is the ISO 17712:2013. It classifies and lays down standards for all mechanical seals that are used to seal freight containers.
These ISO 17712 standards include the following regulations:
- A container seal must be a single-use device that is easy to inspect
- Each seal must be unique, difficult to copy, and be marked with basic information, such as the logo of the company and a unique identification number
- Security bolt seals must be at least 18 mm in diameter
- The tensile strength of a container seal must be greater than 1,000 kg
- The cutting strength of a container seal must be greater than 340 kg
The maximum number of seals you may have on your container is 6. This is because there are only 6 door lock holes on each container.
The customs department can pick your container for a random inspection at any time. During the inspection, the applied seal is broken in order for the contents to be checked. Once the inspection is finished, a customs seal will be placed on your container to resecure your goods. If you see a customs seal, you know that an inspection had been undertaken by customs and it has not been tampered with maliciously.
You can read more about ISO 17712 and HMRC customs regulation in this article here.