Factory Man: An Important Novel for Logistics Professionals

I just completed reading Beth Macy’s non-fiction book, Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local—and Helped Save an American Town. Recently reviewed by the New York Times, it chronicles the Bassett Family and the town of Bassett, Virginia.  It tells of how globalization has adversely affected the working class of the Unites States.

The book is of personal significance for me. I grew up in Bassett and then later Galax, Virginia, both furniture manufacturing towns. There is much that Beth Macy has put into perspective that until now, I never completely understood.  My father worked for Bassett and then later Vaughan Furniture and is quoted in Factory Man several times.  We moved from Galax when I was 13, relocating to High Point, North Carolina as my he took on a new role working for a different furniture company, and I lost touch with the area.  So although I knew much of the information and stories referenced in this book, it was absolutely fascinating to have someone able to provide broader perspective as completely as Beth Macy has done.

But much more significantly, Factory Man tells the story of the displaced American worker.  It is a saga that could easily have been about any number of Southern towns.  My wife and I currently reside in Greensboro, North Carolina.  Our home is in the shadow of once booming textile factories.  Many of our neighbors were displaced from these factories after having generations of their family members work there.  Some of these people are having a very difficult time surviving.

It’s a great business story, but it’s also character-driven as it recounts the trials and tribulations of John Bassett III, grandson of the founders of Bassett Furniture.  It tells of his taking on globalization, saving the factory and company of Vaughan-Bassett. It reaffirms that given the tools and equipment, the American worker can compete with anyone.

I find it ironic that in order to survive and make a living in the area where I live, I find myself working in the world of logistics.  I got into this field mostly because it was an area of business that has fascinated me since college.  But interestingly, one of my chief duties is helping people in the United States find better, faster, and less expensive ways of getting their imports in from Asia. The people most like my father and grandfather, who both made their living from being tied to the manufacturing industry, now live in an entirely different culture and speak a different language.

On another personal note, the story of John Bassett III has been inspirational for me.  His work ethic, determination and drive have helped me to be a better leader in my work.

One More Reason Marine Insurance is an Absolute Must!

A couple of months back I posted an entry regarding the importance of marine insurance.  An additional and very important reason I failed to mention is that the proper Marine Insurance policy covers the freight against theft or damages during the intermodal portions of the shipment as well.  In other words, the word “Marine” in Marine Insurance may lead some to believe it is only for the ocean portion of the shipment.

A case in point would be if you are importing an LCL (Less than Container Load) shipment to Atlanta from Shenzhen, China.  Let’s say that the routing will be Shenzhen to Atlanta via Los Angeles.  In this scenario, the freight will be stuffed into a container in Shenzhen along with other customers’ freight.  Once it arrives in Los Angeles, the container will be drayed to a CFS , where it will be unloaded.  Then it will be stuffed either into another container, or trucking van that can be loaded onto a rail flat car. The freight is then moved via rail to Atlanta.  Once in Atlanta, it will be delivered to another CFS, again unloaded and finally (once Customs Cleared) made available for pick up by the delivering trucker or the consignee.

As you can see, the freight makes several stops along the way and is handled several times.  This increases the chance for damage or theft to occur.  We tend to not think about theft as a possibility, but there is evidence that freight robberies are on the increase.  Freight Watch International has published their report titled 2013 Global Cargo Theft Threat Assessment.  One of the first things that jumps out in the report is that the U.S. Russia, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa are most at risk for cargo theft.

An incredibly unfortunate and ironic thing is that your freight may not be what the thief is attempting to steal!  You have to keep in mind that if your freight is in a container with someone else’s high value electronics, the entire container could be taken and your freight just dumped somewhere.  So unless it is just very easy for the freight to be written off as a loss and/or get a replacement shipment I would strongly recommend purchasing the insurance.  

Please feel free to post comments!

Choosing the Right NVOCC

My last entry I was discussing the differences between BCO’s, VOCC’s, NVOCC’s and Freight Forwarders.  Establishing that your company will begin Importing, you have decided to use an NVOCC to assist.  You expect your volume the first year to be 10 to 20 TEU and now the question is, which NVOCC to choose? The first thought would be going with one that already has a very large amount of volume and clout.  The more volume the NVOCC handles, the better discounts and pricing it should have with the VOCC’s, correct? While this is in fact often the case, going with one of the larger NVOCC’s may or may not be the best idea. 

Though using one of the biggest NVOCC’s will most likely help to secure an excellent price, there are many other things to consider.  If you are truly new to importing, having access to staff at the NVOCC that is willing and able to take the time educating you on the processes involved is critical.  Importing can be quite complex.  Your company will not be a top priority for a lot of the larger NVOCC’s.  They will be quite busy managing their customers with greater freight volumes.

The NVOCC’s relationship to domestic trucking companies is also important.  Many NVOCC’s move tremendous amounts of ocean shipments.  But once the freight gets to the U.S. and is Customs Cleared, it will then be imperative that they are able to access a trucking company quickly to make the final delivery to you.  Many NVOCC’s have very close relationships with trucking companies, or are a division of a trucking company themselves.  This gives this type of NVOCC the added flexibility of handling the final, critical delivery portion of the shipment smoothly and effectively.

Think of it this way.  Let’s say not all of your imports will be FCL.  You will have some shipments that are just a pallet or two.  Furthermore, let’s say that your company is located in a fairly rural part of Indiana.  For this example you have a 2 pallet shipment that arrives at the CFS  in Chicago.   If the NVOCC does not have trucks themselves, then they will have to contract this out, or worse, broker it out! If they are brokering it, your freight can sit for several days while they locate someone willing to go your location.

Oftentimes, Importers get too fixated on price of the freight costs alone.  Having multiple options is also important.  The NVOCC that you work with will need to have relationships with many VOCC’s.  An important key to moving the freight smoothly will be access to space with the carriers.  For example, if your shipment is to depart the port of Shanghai and is ready on March 15, but your NVOCC cannot find space for you until a March 30 sailing, the time lost in the freight not departing in a timely fashion negates any savings you may have had by having a low price.  In fact, not only does it negate the savings, it ends up costing your company significantly in either down time or your customers’ being upset due to the delay.

Ideally, your NVOCC would present you with multiple options.  They may either have a low contract price option with a carrier, or are able to obtain “bullet” or “spot” rates to save money.  Similar to when you go to a website like www.priceline.com NVOCC’s have options to get last minute savings from carriers looking to fill out a vessel.  The thing to remember here, however, is those low cost options fill up quickly.  It’s kind of like going to the supermarket and noticing they have a special on toothpaste, but once they sell all that is on display, the deal is over.

Communication is also very vital.  In this day and age, it is so very important to have access to the answers you need, when you need them.  Your NVOCC must be in very close contact with the Carriers, its partner Agents, Customs Brokers, CFS locations and other parties to be able to provide you information regarding your freight’s status.

Lastly, flexibility is also an incredibly important characteristic your NVOCC must have.  International shipping is amazingly complex.  So many things can happen that can cause delays.  With freight moving thousands of miles, inclement weather can be a major factor.  Also there could be congestion at the ports.  There can be issues with the freight clearing Customs.  With these types of issues and many more, your NVOCC must have access to different options to help mitigate delays.  So much of the just mentioned issues are beyond the NVOCC’s control.  But there must be access to fast trucking options, and direct assistance from Customs Brokers to communicate with governments regarding Customs Clearance issues.  If you are working with an NVOCC that does not have the time or resources to pay close attention to these details, you will be setting yourself up for disappointment.

Please feel free to post comments!

BCO VS VOCC VS FREIGHT FORWARDER VS NVOCC

There is much confusion regarding the understanding of the Acronym titles above.  It would be best to break each one down and discuss the advantages or disadvantages of using each.  For simplicity, we will focus only on Importing.

BCO stands for Beneficial Cargo Owner.  Zepol, a top U.S. trade data provider, defines BCO as “an importer that takes control of their cargo at the point of entry and does not utilize a third party source.”  This means that a BCO is a company with enough importing clout, bringing in enough freight to negotiate contracts directly with a VOCC.  Typically, most BCO’s expect to import at least 100 TEU’s.  The easiest examples of BCO’s are your large retailers like Walmart, Target, Best Buy.

VOCC, therefore, stands for Vessel Operating Common Carrier.  These are the owners of those massive container carrying boats that traverse the oceans.  Examples include Hapag Lloyd, CMA-CGM or Maersk.  The FMC (Federal Maritime Commission) further defines VOCC as having the following characteristics:

  • Holds itself out to the general public to provide transportation by water of passengers or cargo between the United States and a foreign country for compensation
  • Assumes responsibility for the transportation from the port or point of receipt to the port or point of destination
  • Uses, for all or part of that transportation, a vessel operating between a port in the United States and a port in a foreign country

For a very thorough list of VOCC’s, click here:  https://www2.fmc.gov/FMC1Users/scripts/ExtReports.asp?tariffClass=vocc

Let’s say that you have decided to become an importer.  You may of course contact a VOCC directly.  However, if you do not expect to import a significant volume of freight, the VOCC will charge you full tariff price.  Tariff being defined in this case as a table of charges.  Most freight charges for shipments into the U.S. are priced at significantly less than full tariff rate.  There are some simple, if harsh reasons for this.  First, more volume means bigger discounts.  But also, VOCC’s want to limit the number of people/companies/entities contacting them.  They simply do not have the capacity to handle phone calls or answer emails from all importers.  It’s the same if you were to buy direct from a manufacturer.  It can be done, but typically they do not have the time to speak to everyone.

So, if you intend to import and do not expect the amount of volume described above, what is your next best choice? You will need to form a relationship with a Freight Forwarder that either accesses an NVOCC, or is an NVOCC.  In other words, a Freight Forwarder can be an NVOCC, or Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier, but many are not.  Both are essentially third party logistics providers.

In a very recent blog entry, http://www.howtoexportimport.com explained the differences thusly:

“The definition and act of a Freight Forwarder and NVOCC is described by government of various countries differently. The legal obligations to government, clients and public vary from country to country for an NVOCC and a Freight forwarder. 

A Non Vessel Operating Common Carrier is a cargo consolidator who does not own any vessel, but acts as a carrier legally by accepting required responsibilities of a carrier who issues his own bill of lading (or airway bill), which is called House bill of lading under sea shipment and House airway bill under air shipment.  Activities between a NVOCC and a Freight Forwarder are similar to each other except some differences. An NVOCC need not be an agent or partner of a Freight Forwarding company, whereas a Freight Forwarding company can act as a partner or agent for an NVOCC. 

 Basically speaking, NVOCC acts a ‘carrier to shipper’ and ‘shipper to carrier’.

NVOCC can own and operate their own or leased containers.  NVOCC acts as a virtual carrier and accepts all liabilities of a carrier legally, in certain areas of operation.”

An NVOCC is able to take the clout of its many customers and negotiate with the VOCC’s for better pricing.  It can work with these steamship lines by bringing estimates to the table of expected freight volume for certain lanes and gain tariff relief (discounts).  As Thomas Cook states in his book, Mastering Import & Export Management, 5 “the NVOCC becomes like a buying cooperative or purchasing group that works on the concept of clout in negotiation.  The clients of the NVOCC benefit as the membership grows and the management becomes stronger.”

Statistics show that as a percentage of imports, NVOCC’s are playing a greater role.  This could be the result of Internet commerce in which there are more and more importers that are bringing in significant volume, but still not enough to negotiate directly with the VOCC’s.  This interesting chart from Zepol puts it in perspective:  Zepol Chart

So what does this mean essentially for a new importer? In a nutshell, if you work with a Freight Forwarder that is not NVOCC, they will need to access one that is.  And that means you are probably not getting the best pricing and/or service.  A Freight Forwarder that is not NVOCC becomes an additional middle person in your supply chain, taking the rate that the NVOCC gives them and marking it up.  Interestingly, per FMC regulations, they are not allowed to increase the ocean freight rate supplied to them by an NVOCC, but must add an additional line item, accessorial fee or handling charge to the rate they give to their customer. 

But perhaps even more important than pricing, is the service that you will receive.  If your Forwarder is not an NVOCC, you, as the importer, do not really know who is handling and/or controlling your freight.  You will likely have less visibility when attempting to track a shipment.  An excellent website, Differencebetween.net, defines it further:

“The essential difference is how they act in relation to the cargo. An NVOCC acts as the carrier of the cargo being sent. In comparison, a Freight Forwarder doesn’t act as a carrier. A Freight Forwarder only acts in the behalf of the owner of the cargo to facilitate the passage of the cargo from the point of origin to the destination. They contract with carriers to pick the cargo up, board it on a ship or a plane, then another carrier to pick it up at the port; along with the entailing paperwork and documentation.

Freight Forwarders do not issue bills of lading but NVOCC’s do.  A bill of lading is also known as a contract of carriage and is a legal document that binds both parties to the terms agreed upon. A bill of lading is important as it holds the NVOCC liable if and when the cargo becomes lost or damaged while in transit where compensation is often necessary. A Freight Forwarder does not issue a bill of lading, so it is not liable for any damage or loss suffered while the cargo is in transit. It is the Freight Forwarder’s job, however, to get the bill of lading from the carriers that it is contracting. The liabilities of the Freight Forwarder only extend over possible errors on their part like incorrect or incomplete paperwork.

In Summary:

  • An NVOCC acts as the carrier while a Freight Forwarder does not
  • An NVOCC issues a bill of lading while a Freight Forwarder does not
  • An NVOCC is responsible for loss or damage while a Freight Forwarder is not

The thing I often see in my line of work are customers that mostly are concerned about domestic shipping but only occasionally have an International Import.  In order to save money and help to manage their domestic shipments, they employ a third party logistics company that is also a Freight Forwarder.   What they don’t realize is if their 3PL is a Freight Forwarder and not NVOCC, the 3PL will be reaching out to one or more NVOCC’s in order to handle the shipment, thus making a complex shipment even more so.  Next week I will discuss some important things to consider when choosing an NVOCC.

Please feel free to post comments!

Challenges of Green Logistics

“Going green” is a catch phrase that so many marketers have used in recent years because the public is growing more conscious of environmental issues.  After all, we all want to do what is best to be sure our planet will be here for generations to come, right? Most cities across the country have implemented  recycling programs.  Many building contractors have embraced the concept of using recycled materials in both commercial and family home construction.

But what does this interest in “green” mean for logistics?

Some green improvements are easy and actually save businesses money. Carriers are already involved in the green movement as necessity, with things like improving fuel economy.  Small package companies like UPS have reconfigured drivers’ routes to maximize right turns.  The advantage here is that it increases the chances that a driver can make a “right on red,” thus avoiding long idling times.  Truckload carriers have added skirts and rear “trailer tails”  to greatly reduce fuel costs.  Ocean carriers have also implemented “slow steaming” techniques to save greatly on fuel costs.

But other green improvements are very costly to implement, or are government mandated.  And things like moving freight at a slower pace to save fuel is simply not accepted by a society that still expects goods to be delivered at a faster and faster rate.

A case in point is a recent report released by the California Cleaner Freight Coalition outlining ways to overhaul the state’s freight system to improve air quality standards.  You can read a summary of the report here:   Moving California Forward Executive Summary.  

The report is very thorough in outlining ways to improve fuel efficiencies and reduce emissions, but has very little data about the costs these programs will involve. The U.S. is going to continue to import goods for the indefinite future, so how best to implement green logistics while keeping costs low enough to maintain a still struggling economy?

INCO Terms

I hope the New Year is getting off to a great start for everyone.  This week I would like to discuss INCO terms.  If you are new to international shipping or a veteran, it is always a good idea to review these terms.

INCO Terms are internationally recognized terms of sale used to determine responsibility for shipping arrangements and transfer of goods shipped in international trade.  These standard terms help eliminate or reduce legal disputes and misinterpretation of responsibilities to the export or import transaction.  Per the International Chamber of Commerce, they “help traders avoid costly misunderstandings by clarifying the tasks, costs and risks involved in the delivery of goods from sellers to buyers.”

The terms are universal as they apply to all trading nations under all circumstances.  They were first published in 1936 and have been updated 8 times, the most recent in 2010.  The terms apply to both imports and exports.  The terms are abbreviated to 3 letter codes broken down into 4 categories.  The first letter of the code determines the category:

E Terms.  The seller makes the goods available at the seller’s facility.

F Terms.  The seller is required to deliver the goods to a carrier specified by the buyer.

C Terms.  The seller contracts for carriage, but does not assume the risk of loss or damage to the goods after delivery to the carrier.

D Terms.  The seller is responsible for all costs and risks required to bring the shipment to the destination country.

Additionally, some of the terms are rules for any mode of transport where others only apply to Sea and Inland Waterway transport.

Determining which term to use is a vital component of the sales process.  A lot of the customers I work with often fail to grasp the importance of them.  Most shippers in the U.S. are very familiar with the North America terms: FOB Shipping Point and FOB Destination.  But they often forget to take into account that International shipments are handled by many more entities.  Thus, who pays for what part of the shipment can become confusing.

Ultimately, it comes down to the level of trust that exists between the parties involved.  Typically, for export shipments, the term DDP(Delivered Duties Paid) entails the most liability for the shipper.  But companies may have their reasons for handling shipments in this manner.

For example, if an exporter here in the U.S. is very familiar with the company that it is shipping to in Germany, then shipping under DDPmay make complete sense.  The company receiving the shipment may be a subsidiary or sister company.  These two entities may have a complex accounting system by which they debit and credit each other internally for some or all of the shipping costs.  But they prefer the Bills of Lading to be under DDP.

More often, however, in the case of a company here in the U.S. working with a customer outside the U.S., the customer may make demands of the seller as terms of the sale.  They may state that they will not purchase the goods unless the seller handles all freight charges.  Many times I have dealt with an exporter that has made this mistake, only to learn that their customer in the foreign country will allow the freight to sit in Customs limbo while they attempt to finalize a sale of the goods to their customer.  Meanwhile, the freight starts to rack up storage charges and other fees that the U.S. Exporter is responsible for paying.

One way I advise customers to avoid this situation is to have their customer use brokers and trucking companies in their own domicile country.  Have them get quotes for expected costs and offer to make this part of the sale negotiation.  Perhaps they can offer the customer a credit of $2000 to handle the trucking and Customs clearance themselves.  Then set up the Bills of Lading as DAP (Delivered At Place).  This way, the seller’s liability ends once the goods are delivered to the named port or terminal.

One last thought regarding INCO terms is that the term is technically not complete without a “place” tied in with it.  In other words, the term has to list the city, port or city to be complete.  As Thomas Cook mentions in his book, Mastering Import & Export Management, “offering the INCO term without the ‘named place’ is only addressing part of the equation and leaving out a very integral component, leading to confusion and much frustration.”

If the seller has not taken into account the place of where responsibility lies, they may find themselves paying more of the freight charges than originally intended.

Importance of Shipment Planning part 2

Last week I talked about the importance of looking at freight shipments with the end (or destination)  in mind and how important it is to consider all potential issues working backwards to the shipping point.  When it comes to international shipments, there are even more issues to be considered.  With an international shipment, the freight is typically handled by many more parties.   Also, unless it is a short distance trans-border shipment from Canada or Mexico, the freight usually travels a much greater distance than standard domestic freight.

Let’s use our consignee in Warren, AR from the last week’s entry as an example.  But this time, the shipper is located in Huizhou, China.  There will be a total of 6 pallets of metal furniture components packed in cartons.  So, the same questions regarding the consignee’s location are still needed to be confirmed as in last week’s scenario.  Six pallets would be considered LCL, less than container load.

The next items to be considered involve how the freight will be routed and the type of service used.  If it is a time critical shipment, air freight might be considered because it’s so much faster.  Let’s say that transit time is not a huge factor, so ocean would be preferred because it’s the least expensive method.  The freight would likely be delivered to Warren, AR via truck from a CFS (Container Freight Station) in Memphis, TN.  The most economical method of getting it there would be via intermodal transit from the ocean port. Los Angeles is the most commonly used port, but east or gulf coast ports could be considered.

Although the shipment is only 6 pallets, it will arrive at the Memphis CFS in a 40’ container, packed with other freight.  At the CFS, it will be unloaded, sorted and once cleared by US Customs, made available for pick up by the trucker.  If coming from Los Angeles, the container would arrive via rail where a drayman must pick it up and deliver to the CFS.

Before the freight arrives in Memphis, it needs to be placed on the rail system from a CFS at the port of Los Angeles after arriving via the ocean vessel.  Oftentimes there is not enough LCL freight moving to Memphis from the origin point to fully complete a 40’ container.  When this is the case, the container arriving in Los Angeles CFS will be unloaded, sorted and placed in a different 40’ container to go to Memphis.

Looking back to the origin point of Huizhou, the closest ocean port would be Shenzhen.  So getting the freight to that port would require similar thinking.  The six pallets would arrive at a CFS station in Shenzhen via truck.  At the origin (Shenzhen) CFS, the freight will be placed in the 40’ container where it will be combined with other consignee’s freight to completely fill it and ship to Los Angeles.

So as you consider what seems like a simple LCL import shipment, you begin to notice just how many times the freight will be handled.  To summarize: It will be packaged at the shipper’s location, and then handled by a trucker on its way to the origin CFS at Shenzhen.  There it will be combined to complete a 40’ container bound for port of Los Angeles.  In LA, the freight will be drayed to another CFS, unloaded, sorted and placed in another 40’ container bound for Memphis via rail.  Upon arrival at Memphis rail yard, it will be drayed to the destination CFS, unloaded and sorted for pickup by the trucking company, likely an LTL (Less Than Truckload) carrier.  The LTL Carrier will bring the freight back to their Memphis terminal where it will be combined with freight bound for their Little Rock, AR facility.  There, it will be unloaded and re-loaded onto a delivering trailer to the consignee’s door in Warren, AR.

It is good to be able to step back and see the things that have to take place in order for an international shipment to arrive safely.  By considering the number of stop points that the shipment in our example has to make, it becomes clear the importance of planning.  The slightest hiccup at any of the points in transit can delay a shipment by a day or two or even weeks.  For instance, freight departing the origin port has got to be there by a cutoff day or else it might miss the vessel.   If it misses the vessel it might wait a week before it departs.

Therefore, understanding how shipments get from one location to the other can greatly help in planning the where and when it will arrive.  Adding buffer times to allow for any possible bottlenecks in the transit line can greatly help keep your work and processes flow more smoothly.  Knowing these things can greatly help in planning production schedules at the shipping location.

Importance of Shipment Planning

Businesses must have both long term and short term plans, but in shipping, the plan must revolve around how to get the freight to where it needs to be and when.  Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But so often, the task of planning shipments falls on someone that was never really trained for it.  This person in the organization may already be overworked, now has the responsibility of getting an important shipment delivered, and has no understanding of what it takes to make it happen.  Everyone understands that the freight has got to be where it needs to be, when it needs to be there, but what most either don’t take the time to understand or simply don’t have the time to try understanding is the how to get the freight there.  Even experienced logistics professionals make grave mistakes in their shipment planning. 

When things go wrong, it is easy to levy complete blame on your transportation provider and thinking, “That’s what I contacted you people for; you were supposed to know what to do!” This blame may be completely justified: Truckers, 3PLs and Freight Forwarders drop the ball all the time.  Salespeople for these types of companies, too focused on closing a deal, constantly forget to ask important questions.  Or if the customer is unable to answer a logistics provider’s questions, the salesperson for the provider may not push hard enough for the answers and just hope things will work out.  Many times they do not. Regardless, it serves the customer to understand what’s required from their end.  After all, a person may have an accountant to prepare one’s income taxes, but that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t know something about the process.  The same goes for shipping. 

Let’s take a closer look at what I mean by planning when it comes to moving a piece of freight from one place to another.  As was mentioned earlier, with freight, the only goal is to get the shipment where it needs to be and when it needs to be there.  One simple tactic that can greatly help with any shipping scenario is to first consider the destination of the freight and work your way backwards.  So for instance, if you are shipping a full 53’ truckload of palletized freight from your warehouse in South Carolina to your new customer in Warren, AR, you need to ask your consignee questions like these: 

  • Do you have a dock?
  • Do you have a forklift?
  • Can you accommodate a 53’ trailer at the facility? Many older manufacturing facilities now being used as warehouses were built when the 40’ trailer was the standard.  There may not be enough room for a tractor with 53’ trailer to turn around.
  • There will be 26 pallets on the truck – how long does it typically take you to unload?
  • Do you have the warehouse space to receive the freight if it arrives in the next (define the time frame-a week, a few days…)?
  • What are your receiving hours?

Next, you will want to touch base with your motor carrier of choice to confirm:

  • What is the time in transit?
  • Will the driver that picks up from my dock be the same one that delivers or will these duties be transferred to another driver?  (Why is this question important? Because if there are any special instructions you need to make sure that everyone has them)

These are just a few of the issues that you will want to consider and questions that you will need answers to before proceeding.  But it is easy to see that by looking at the shipment from the delivery point and working back to the shipping point you can begin to spot potential problems long before they happen and will help you to avoid them.

THREE REASONS MARINE INSURANCE IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST

There is seldom a day in which we are not bombarded by announcements that we need more insurance, or that we need to save money on insurance. We’ve got to have home and car insurance, for example. When we go to an office supply store, sometimes we’re asked if we would like to buy an extended warranty for a $10 calculator.  We’ve become numb to so many voices yammering about insurance in our day to day lives.

But when it comes to shipping freight internationally by sea, it is essential.  Importers often make the mistake of not purchasing coverage for their freight.  There are several possible reasons for this.  The importer may be inexperienced or purchasing from a new vendor.  The importer may have thoughtfully considered the price of the product and the transit time, and requested estimated freight costs from several freight forwarders and have chosen the most economical option.  Most forwarders, in an effort to appear less expensive, do not list insurance on their quotes.  After all, the customer did not request it up front, so why include it and appear to be overpriced?

Once the importer chooses a freight forwarder, the forwarder may ask if the importer would like to purchase insurance.  But many times the forwarder may be so happy to close the business they simply forget to ask.

Other times the importer may assume that the freight is insured automatically.  After all, motor carriers (truckers) are required to carry certificates of insurance stating covered liability for freight usually up to $100,000.00.  But ocean carriers play by a completely different set of rules.

There are three reasons that Marine insurance is an absolute must when shipping internationally.  All have to do with the rules of COGSA (Carriage of Goods by Sea Act).  According to Wikipedia, “COGSA is a United States statute governing the rights and responsibilities between shippers of cargo and ship-owners regarding ocean shipments to and from the United States.  It is the U.S. enactment of the International Convention Regarding Bills of Lading, commonly known as the “Hague Rules.”

The U.S. Congress felt that the Hague rules did not offer shippers enough protection against damage to freight from ship owners.  So they set a standard that carriers would have to pay up to $500/package.    At the time COGSA was passed, freight was typically shipped in crates, bags or cartons of some kind.  But later, shippers began placing cartons on pallets.  Ship owners seized the opportunity to begin defining each pallet as a “package” and effectively limit liability to $500/pallet.

Later, when shipping containers of 20 and 40 feet in length came into prominent use, ship owners again seized the chance to begin defining each container as a package, thus limiting liability to $500/container.  Therefore, without insurance, any claims against loss or damage to your freight are limited to $500 per container. 

Secondly, under the rules of COGSA, if there is a disaster at sea in which environmental clean-up is required, the importer could be held liable for a percentage of the clean-up costs.  For instance, if there is a fire on board the ocean vessel and your freight becomes lost or damaged, not only would you be reimbursed a paltry $500 maximum for the loss of your cargo, you would also be expected to pay for some of the clean-up! This is why additional insurance is important.

Lastly, Marine insurance also protects your freight from loss in times of war and/or piracy. Like the recent film Captain Phillips illustrates, piracy is alive and well in the modern world.

 

Importance of Communication

The interesting thing that I see in my work as a freight forwarder is that with so many ways to communicate in today’s business world, it is amazing how many times and how easy it is to mis-communicate. Time, money, and endless headaches can be saved if you make sure everyone in a transaction supplies the other parties with the information they need for things to happen smoothly.

The first thing a logistics professional should do is to take stock of their contacts list.  It is important to understand not only who the key players are in the supply chain, but what their roles are.  There are many options out there for managing contacts, with Microsoft Outlook being one of the most popular.  But more important than just having the contacts stored in an easy place is the knowledge of how those contacts need to interact in order to make work flow. This knowledge has always been critical, but with international commerce it becomes imperative.

For instance, let’s say you work for a wholesale distributor of plumbing parts with strategic warehouses in Los Angeles CA, Norfolk, VA and Houston, TX.  Primarily, you import many of your goods from China, and use a company that is both a Customs Broker and Freight Forwarder to assist.  Let’s call them Freight Forwarder A.

Recently, your company has begun procuring galvanized pipe from Brazil.  Part of the decision to source the product from Brazil is because you developed a relationship with a Freight Forwarder that specializes in importation from South America.  They are Freight Forwarder B.  The caveat is that this company cannot clear the goods through U.S. Customs for you – they need to use a partner broker to do so.  You have the choice to either let them do this or to allow Freight Forwarder A to do it.

Because Freight Forwarder B specializes in South American freight, you elect to let Freight Forwarder B handle the Customs Clearance also via their partner.  This creates 2 separate supply chains and 2 separate lines of communication.  You need to make certain that not only you, but all your staff understand where and to whom specific documents need to be sent.  You don’t want Freight Forwarder A receiving customs documents from Brazil that Freight Forwarder B should be receiving.

Additionally, one thing that I see regularly is an organization’s decision to simply “copy all” parties in e-mail chains.  They copy in their vendor overseas, the manufacturer, the overseas agent, and the Freight Forwarder.  This creates a problem because those who don’t need all that information start ignoring the e-mail chain and may miss information they do need as a result.

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