Container Customs Controls: The types and procedures followed

The containerization of the cargo brought a revolution in the transport industry as it enabled the shipment of smaller quantities of cargo from one side of the world to another, approaching worldwide destinations on regular basis by achieving transport cost minimization.

Nevertheless, the biggest disadvantage that came along with it was the smuggling opportunities that flourished due to the invisibility of the cargo contents which are packed inside the container’s steel construction. Thus, it was impossible in the first place to control and easily inspect the cargo packed within.

For the above mentioned reasons, Customs Authorities around the world follow strict procedures in order to prevent and combat the phenomenon of smuggling.

Cargo of non-EU origin

In principal, Customs inspections are being held for containerized cargo of non-EU origin during their import or export to /from EU countries.

Cargo of EU origin

When it comes to cargo of EU origin, only a basic checking of the documentation that concerns their actual cargo origin is done during the entry of the container in the country. Thereafter, no further inspection needs to be made unless there is suspicion or relevant info that the cargo may be illegal or against Customs rules, hence, needs to be inspected accordingly.

What are the possible cargo inspections that may occur?

The control procedure to be followed is defined by the Customs document that is electronically submitted via the ICISNET software on the web. The next step is the risk analysis of the cargo which made by the Head of the Customs Department to which the subject document was primarily submitted in. Thereafter, the Chief Customs Officer may give the following control commands to the auditors:

  1. No control – content declaration against documents. The Chief Customs Officer appoints to proceed without further checking and by accepting the description and the quantity of the goods as per shipper’s declaration. In transit cargo cannot be treated like the above mentioned procedure.
  2. Document Control. In this case, only the commercial documents of the cargo need to be checked and there is no need of physical inspection of the cargo by opening the container.
    How is this conducted: The commercial documents of the cargo (Bill of Lading, Invoice, Packing list and Delivery order) are checked by the auditor in order to verify that they are true and accurate. If veterinary or health control is required, the relevant documents, e.g. phytosanitary certificate, are also examined.
    Moreover, the correct and accurate calculation of the taxes and duties which arise is being checked, as well as, whether the cargo is considered free for circulation or whether it should be under Customs surveillance (i.e. requires relevant deposit of bank guarantee for its onwards circulation.
  3. Physical control of the cargo. This is the complete version of the control procedure as the physical presence of the Customs Officer is mandatory along with consignee or his representative. The container is moved to a special area where Customs controls take place, it is unsealed, opened and the physical control of the cargo takes place.
    How is this conducted: This is the toughest control that applies which bears financial burdens for the consignee, delays of the delivery of the cargo and possible damages to the cargo, as well.
    Nowadays, subject type of control seems to be outdated because in technically advanced borders/ports throughout the world, inspections are carried out with the assistance of scanners. The scanning method allows the control to be done easily without additional costs, delays or damages to the cargo.
    There are two types of physical controls: a sample control and the catholic control of the container’s content.

How is it decided which control type will be followed?

The Chief Customs Officer appoints the control type in the exact way as this results from the risk analysis which is based on the following parameters:

  • Through “Decision Submission and Risk Analysis Subsystem” electronic system, right after the submission of a brief entry summary (ENS) and before the arrival of the cargo at the border/port.
  • Through “Subsystem of Specific Information and Assumptions” electronic system, random audits are being done in order to reach the annual percentage threshold (%) set by the Ministry of Finance, e.g. 4% on Transit Cargo, 5% on imports. This random selection takes place after the actual arrival of the cargo at the border/port.
  • The Chief Customs Officer may request controls based on his discretion.
  • The Chief Customs Liability Officer, who is in charge of the overall control of counterfeit and imitation products, at his discretion, may request the control of the cargo as well.
  • Finally, once the whole procedure is completed and the cargo is released and heads to its final destination freely or under Customs surveillance, a post-control may be executed while the container exits the Port’s gate or during the road transport, or after the container arrives at the final consignee or even when cargo is distributed in retail shops. In other words, a Customs control can take place at any stage of the supply chain.

Which are the possible consequences after a Customs Control?

If errors and inaccuracies are detected during the audits, fines are imposed. The fines may start from €100 and may rise on higher levels depending on the discretion of the Supervisor or the Director. Another factor that shall influence the penalty level is whether an effort of deception or possible smuggling is detected.

In cases where counterfeit products are detected, they are confiscated or destroyed under the responsibility of the company which tries to secure the authenticity of its products. Fines up to €2,000 may be imposed to the consignee.

Customs Controls in non-containerized cargo

Regarding bulk cargoes in warehouses or open means of transport, the control process is much easier than the one where cargo is transported in containers as the cargo is directly visible.

In this case, workers and lifting machines are at auditor’s disposal in order to carry out the inspection correctly. It is important to mention that is consignee’s or his representative’s responsibility to avail and pay for the necessary equipment for the unhindered execution of the audit.

Completion of Customs Controls – Final Dispatch

Once all the controls and inspections are over, the Customs document is signed as ‘good to proceed’ and is promoted accordingly to the next step of its Customs finalization.