Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Identifying Transport Containers by their Name plate

NOW a days most of the transportation is by containers and in a recent  Seminar where I handled a Session,  there was good exchange of information on containers.  

As you step by road side you see these huge boxes of variant colours loaded on trucks whizzing past.   Goods are loaded from the factories, thence they move to CFS / ICDs or to Ports, get stowed on vessels, transhipped at gateway ports, unloaded at a destination port, transported inland by rail / road and eventually reach the destination bridging the gap between the Seller and Buyer at different countries – providing supply of once scarce goods at that place.  

These boxes with wooden floor and corrugated iron body and roof on solid frames are called containers.  Those manufactured as per ISO specifications are referred as ISO containers – the standardization helps in optimum utilisation of space.   Though there are some variants most used are the 20 foot followed by 40 footers.   TEU is an inexact unit of the cargo capacity used in the industry circles describing the capacity.  It is based on the volume of a 20 foot long intermodal container unit.   The dimensions generally are :  20 feet (6.1 m) long and 8 feet (2.4 m) wide ;  height might range between 4.25 and 9.5 feet (1.30 and 2.9 m), with the most common height being 8.5 feet (2.6 m].  There are many non standard shipping units as well. 

The ISO rated ones conform to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) container manufacturing standards. ISO is headquartered at Switzerland.  As goods and containers move from continent to continent, they are covered by laws, regulations, conventions and standards on both an international and national basis.

The Institute of International  Container Lessors (IICL) was established in 1971 and has been  instrumental in the development of the International Convention for Safe Containers (CSC), the international agreement for maintaining containers in safe condition, the Approved Continuous Examination Programmes (ACEP), and of the Harmonized Interpretation of the CSC with the International Maritime Organization.

Many aspects of the containers can be identified by the codes embossed on them.  Going by the Country codes of ISO 3166 the standard reference to India is IN.  

ISO 6346 is an international standard managed by the International Container Bureau (BIC) for coding, identification and marking of intermodal containers (shipping containers) used within intermodal freight transport as part of containerization.

This coding establishes an idenfification system with  :  Owner code (known as BIC code); equipment category identifier; a serial number, a check digit,  size and type code, country code and operational marks.

In ISO 6346 grading, the owner code consists of three capital letters of the Latin alphabet to indicate the owner or principal operator of the container. Such code needs to be registered at the Bureau International des Containers in Paris to ensure uniqueness worldwide.
The equipment category identifier consists of one of the following three capital letters of the Latin alphabet:
        U for all freight containers
        J for detachable freight container-related equipment
        Z for trailers and chassis

Then comes the serial number which consists of 6 (Arabic) numeric digits, assigned by the owner or operator, uniquely identifying the container within that owner/operator's fleet.  Then there would be the check digit consisting of one arabic numeral providing a means of validating the recording and transmission accuracies of the owner code and serial number.  

ISO 6346 also gives size and type codes for containers. When displayed on the container, the size and type codes shall be used as a whole.
The codes are compiled of the following elements:
        First character, representing the length (coded)
        Second character, representing the width and height (coded)
        Third and fourth character indicating the type of the container

Here is some information obtained by providing the codes in a famous website (http://shipping-container-info.com). The container no. would be in the format of 4 digit owner code; followed six digits of serial nos.  and one digit check code.   

BY PROVIDING 22T6  the following information was gotten :

20 Foot Tank for Dangerous Liquid Shipping Container (22T6) – Standard
ISO 6346:1995  Size Type Code : 22T6 ;  Tank container for dangerous liquids.
Description :  Minimum pressure 600 kPa
Dimensions Details  :  Length  - 6058 millimeter ; 20 foot :  Height  - 2591 millimeter ; 8 foot 6 inch :  Width  - 2438 millimeter ; 8 foot

Specific Characteristics  :  Minimum Pressure  600 kPa (kilopascal)

By providing the BIC CODE OF GESU : could obtain the ownership details - : Registrar : Bureau International des Containers (B.I.C) ;  Owners – Ge Seaco Sri, Singapore.

In general, any container used for international transport must have a valid safety approval plate or "CSC plate". CSC is the abbreviation for Container Safety Convention.

Generally the containers are to be checked on the following parameters before stuffing :  holes or cracks in walls or roof, closing devices, doors operating properly, all traces of previous cargo including adhesive labels removed.  Floor area, gaskets remain unharmed and in good condition, light test to check watertightness, interiors being dry, container clean, free of cargo residues, no nails or other objects protruding which can damage cargo.

Sure this provides some added insight on containers.  Look forward to your feedback

Regards – S Sampathkumar.


  1. Good learning on Containers from you. Thanks - Murali

  2. I live in Royapuram and the first reaction of ours on a container laden truck is to get out of the way. Now after reading this, I was inclined to look at the no. on the container - Baskar

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