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What does a successful import mean to you? For many importers, success is directly linked to the condition in which the goods arrive.

Sometimes a buyer negotiates a good cost price for imports, but the cargo gets damaged en route to its end destination. Often the goods cannot be repaired, and if the original packaging is damaged, it can be nearly impossible to replace locally. Damaged import goods cannot fetch high selling prices, which in turn compromises profits.

Given the high risk inherent in transporting goods long-distance, who should be liable for the risk and costs of damaged products?

Here are some tips to help you address the most common problems related to receiving damaged or inadequate goods.

Scenario 1: Damaged or irregularly-filled container loads

It is the exporter’s responsibility to make sure that no damaged goods are loaded into the shipping container. This includes making sure that the goods are packed properly. Shipping containers are rugged, heavy structures that are built to last approximately 20 years (and endure a fair share of rough handling along the way). Shipping companies treat the containers accordingly and operate under the assumption that the goods have been securely packed to survive the journey.

As soon as you receive a container that seems damaged or irregularly filled, do the following:

  1. Conduct a container inspection. Before opening the container, check the container for damage. Also, check the seal numbers against the official documents to make sure that you’ve received the correct container.
  2. Create an inspection note. Note any container damage or seal number discrepancies. Remember – detail is important. Sign and date the note.
  3. Contact the carrier. Request that the carrier send a representative to inspect the damage.

NB: Do not open or unload the container before the representative arrives.

  1. Inform the relevant parties. Contact any parties that were involved in handling the container (including your marine insurer) to notify them of the damage and the possibility of an insurance claim.

Scenario 2: Missing cargo

Sometimes all seems in order from the outside – the container is undamaged, and the seal numbers correspond to your documents. However, when you open the container, some of your goods are missing!

In this case, you should lodge a claim against the supplier or cargo insurers as soon as possible. It is your responsibility to gather sufficient proof – take pictures of the cargo, list the missing items in detail, provide copies of your purchase invoices, and ensure that you minimise the likelihood of further theft.

Scenario 3: Damaged import goods

If your cargo is damaged and you cannot sell it, follow these steps:

  1. Retain the goods. Make sure to retain the damaged import goods and packaging materials (for inspection purposes). It is essential that you do not repair or dispose of any goods until the necessary inspections have been performed. The party against which you lodge a claim also needs to give approval before the goods can be disposed of.
  2. Prevent further damage. It is important to make sure that no further damage occurs. For example, in the event of water damage, remove the water-damaged goods (in their original packaging) from the other goods. This will prevent the other goods from incurring water or mold-related damage.
  3. Claim from the relevant parties. Lodge a claim against either the carrier or the cargo insurers.

Receiving damaged import goods may be inconvenient, but by following the correct procedures you can minimise your losses and get back to business as usual faster.

Need assistance with getting your business ready to import? Contact us on 087 550 1038, or fill out this form on our website and we’ll contact you.

Tracy Venter

Tracy transitioned from industry to founding Import Export License in 2011, aiding importers and exporters with customs compliance. In 2014, she launched Trade Logistics, focusing on supporting startups and SMMEs in international trade. Since then, Tracy's team has assisted 35,000+ businesses, reaching 32,000 traders monthly through newsletters. She's contributed to publications like Entrepreneurs Magazine and SME Toolkit, spoken at trade events, and participated in customs forums. Import Export License helped with the pilot trial to launch customs' new online registration platform (RLA). Through Trade Logistics she has launched 3 online import-export training courses. She holds an Honours degree from Stellenbosch University and a Cum Laude Masters from Middlesex University. In her spare time, Tracy enjoys running, mountain biking, playing piano, and cherishing moments with her husband and four children.