June 2011 | Commentary | Carriers Corner

Ports Plug In: Electronic Tracking Tools Create Smooth Sailing for Ocean Cargo

Tags: Logistics I.T., Ports

Simon Kaye is CEO, Jaguar Freight, 516-239-1900

Most ports today compete globally with one another and reflect the tremendous ocean transport productivity gains achieved in recent decades. Choosing a port often hinges on the available technological support for everything from vessel contracting to payment processing. One advantage ports can offer shippers is access to specialized tracking and handling capabilities that add value to cargo throughput.

Electronic systems allow for “vetting” interactions so clearance data flows smoothly from one operational activity to the next. Importers can trust their transactions will be fully transparent and efficient. Such processing should integrate with the shipper’s or freight forwarder’s electronic tracking system.

Technological Support

Comprehensive real-time electronic tracking capabilities let shippers locate and follow freight, catalog results that can be searched and analyzed, and eliminate the inefficiency and error potential of physically keying routing numbers and freight identification.

Effective electronic tracking systems also enable users to determine shipment status using search criteria such as vendor or consignee identities, country of origin and destination, and, most importantly, a manufacturer’s own purchase order and bar-code numbers. The system will also alert shippers automatically that certain key milestones— such as loading, sailing, arrival, and delivery— have occurred or been delayed.

Sophisticated Issues

International Commercial Terms (Incoterms), the internationally accepted definitions of trade terms, are an important tracking consideration for sophisticated importers that use Group F terms, under which the seller arranges and pays for pre-carriage in the country of export.

One such term, Free on Board (FOB), dictates that the seller is responsible for delivering goods to the named port, handling export customs clearance, and loading the cargo onto the vessel. Increased supply chain visibility and control is a critical FOB benefit.

By taking control of goods as they go onboard at the overseas port of shipment, importers obtain accurate and timely shipment information, and can invoice the supplier upon confirmed arrival at destination port. Online tracking systems allow users to cross-check and plan their shipments in real time, which is a huge advantage in making such arrangements work.

filling in the details

Customs and border protection officials increasingly use electronic processing systems for clearing import shipments at ports. For example, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has developed Importer Security Filing (ISF) rules that require importers to electronically submit security-related shipment information at least 24 hours before goods are loaded on an ocean vessel. The port of choice should offer full technology capabilities for ISF support.

Port capabilities should extend far beyond basic unloading and storage. In-depth knowledge of maritime shipping requirements is inseparable from the forwarding organizations and related technology systems that support such knowledge.

When effectively integrated in any port, these elements facilitate the movement of products quickly, cleanly, and without loss, no matter how far-flung the supply chain.