Standardisation of container security seals

Approximately 90 percent of the world’s trade moves in containers. At any given time this equates to billions of dollars worth of inventory moving in freight containers either via truck, train, ship or barge. Last year an estimated 100,000,000 TEU moved in international trade. It is estimated this will increase to over 150m TEU by 2010.

Getting these goods safely to their planned destination and in good condition was the initial definition of freight security. This has changed. Today security includes both this safe delivery and the prevention of any unauthorised use or misuse of the cargo or the transport means.

ISO’s work on container seals

ISO TC 104 (Technical Committee 104, Freight Containers) has been actively working with the World Customs Organization on container seals and in a Joint Working Group (JWG) with Technical Committee 122 (TC 122) on the use of Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) for marking and tracking at all levels within the transportation chain. This article addresses specifically ISO’s work on container seals and their use on freight containers.

Container seals are typically affixed to the door end of the freight container. They are used to secure the freight container in a manner that provides an indication of tampering with the seal if an attempt is made to open the container doors. Different seal types provide evidence of tampering in different ways, from scratches or nicks on the body of the seal to a deformation of the locking mechanism.

ISO/PAS 17712:2003, Freight containers – Mechanical seals was established to address existing concerns and to meet the need for high quality security seals. It offers a set of recommendations to assist customs authorities, manufacturers and users of freight containers. It establishes uniform procedures for the classification of mechanical seal types as well as the acceptance and withdrawal of acceptance of mechanical freight container seals based on a defined series of tests. The use of ISO/PAS 17712 ensures better seal performance, a reduction in cargo theft, and a more secure transportation chain from container loader to consignee. In addition, a large increase in in-transit security can now come about because customs authorities have a basis to require use of a high security seal based on this new document.

Prior to ISO/PAS 17712, industry and governments were confronted with a number of challenges from the lack of a comprehensive standard for mechanical seals. Container owners and shippers, for example, were unsure as to what type of mechanical seal was appropriate for the applications they had – and there was noticeable inconsistency in the strength of seals that purported to perform the same function. Governments, on the other hand, did not have a standard on which they could base a requirement to use seals. An all-encompassing standard was needed in order to promote in-transit security of freight containers.

Since its publication in 2003, ISO/PAS 17712:2003 has effectively established itself as the unique source of information on mechanical seals that are acceptable for securing freight containers in international commerce. It promises to play a significant role in improving security measures taken against terrorism, theft, smuggling and illegal immigration.

This work is not complete however. An annex to support ISO/PAS 17712 is under development by ISO/TC 104 that will set out “Security Seal Manufacturers’ Best Practices” throughout the duration of a cargo seal’s use. The purpose of this annex is to ensure that all seals produced meet the required performance and strength parameters and that their distribution and use is in a controlled environment. Without this control of the seals and their use, security could be unknowingly compromised.

To read the full article download PDF

Michael T. Bohlman, Chairman of ISO Technical Committee 104, International Organization for Standardization, Kenilworth, NJ, USA
Edition: Edition 27

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