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Maritime/Shipping/container shipping from Boston to Ecuador


Dear Mr. Jacks,
I am a mystery writer, and am trying to understand the logistics of shipping a 40-foot container from Boston, MA to Guayaquil, Ecuador. I wonder if you might be able to help with my rather unusual questions.

Do freighters bound for South America leave from the Port of Boston? Or would containers leave from New York, or points South? If that is the case, would the container need to travel by rail from Boston to the port of departure? Does 3 weeks seem like a reasonable estimate of shipping time?

In my story, the container is filled with about 400 used bicycles, which are being donated to an organization in Quito, Ecuador. Would customs in the U.S. Xray or manually inspect the container before it is loaded onto a ship? If customs officials need to open a container, how do they obtain a key to do so?

Finally, if someone were trapped in a shipping container, and shouting for help, would people on the outside be able to hear? (Particularly the driver of a truck delivering that container?) Does a truck driver for a container delivery service have a key, and possibly a spare key?

Thanks in advance for your time and any help you may be able to offer!
Diana Renn

All good questions.
1) There is container service directly out of Boston, although many times depending on the carrier the containers are loaded onto a barge and then sent up to New York for departure.
2) Transit time would be around 22-30 days, so 3 weeks would be reasonable. It really depends on the port rotation of the vessel voyage. While some ports are first calls on a voyage, others might be 2nd, 4rd or even 10th. Most likely the ship would stop in Columbia, then move on.
3) US Customs would only inspect the container if something on the manifest raised their concern. X-Ray (or VACIS Exam) is routinely done on import cargo. It would be plausible that US Customs would do a VACIS or physical exam (opening the container to inspect the contents) if something was out of the ordinary with the paperwork. The container would be sealed with a BOLT type seal which has a serial number or ID number on it. They are not meant to prohibit entry, just identify that entry has been made if the seal is either broken or does not match with the manifest. If legitimate entry has been made by US or Foreign customs or port authority, a appropriate seal is used to re-seal the container. The seal is a single use item and once sealed, bolt cutters or similar device would be needed to cut the seal. The way the door securing mechanism on a ocean container works makes it nearly impossible to open from the inside one closed and secured regardless of a seal is applied or not.
3) If someone was trapped inside a ocean container, they could be heard. Now with this being said, that would depend on where in its voyage they are trying to be heard. If they wake up and the container is aboard the ship, below deck, deep in a stack of containers, they could conceivably shout for days and not be heard. Modern container vessels can have well over 2000 containers aboard and any given time and are designed for a minimum crew.
4) The floors of the containers are constructed of wood planks to make it easier for blocking and bracing to be nailed/screwed in place to keep the cargo from shifting. Usually this is in good shape, but if the carriers M&R (maintenance and repair) dept did not detect it, part of the floor could be rotten.
Hopefully this will give you some information which you can use in your story.
Always glad to help.
Thanks, Scott  


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Scott Jacks


Related to any type of ocean transport. Containerized (FCL-LCL), ro-ro, lo-lo, barge. Also Customs clearance, duties and taxes. No air cargo.


25 years in NVO/Freight forwarding logistics. Worked extensively with consolidations, intermodal movements,breakbulk projects.


25 years in NVO/Freight forwarding logistics. Worked extensively with consolidations, intermodal movements,breakbulk projects.

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