ABF Border Holds

Please note that this article has been taken directly from Lloyds List Australia / Zoran Kostadinoski – CBFCA – all credit given

In May 2002, the Government announced ‘The Protecting Our Borders’ program to help control illegal movement of people and goods while at the same time ensuring law abiding citizens and traders suffer minimal disruption as they go about their business at the border.

Since this time, container x-ray has become an accepted and integral element of the logistics chain.

The facts for importers and your logistics solution providers

*Why container x-ray is important and necessary?
Container x-rays improve the Australian Border Force’s (ABF) capacity to detect prohibited goods, including illicit drugs and illegal firearms that may be shipped in containers. They also help identify non-compliance with import and export requirements. The container selection process is not random. Selection is intelligence driven and based on risk. Current Container Examination Facilities (CEF) operations indicate that the number of imported containers subject to x-ray is approximately 101,500 TEU and around 14,000 TEU are physically examined each year.

Where are CEF’s currently located?
The four major CEFs are located in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle. These facilities house container x-ray machines capable of examining up to four sea cargo containers at a single time. There are also smaller CEF’s in Adelaide, Newcastle, Darwin, Launceston and Townsville.  CEF’s allow the ABF to inspect a significant amount of cargo coming into Australia.

The process
The Container Selection & Inspection Process screens and risk assesses all import and export cargo and will select around 7% of loaded import containers for inspection at the CEFs. Empty containers and export cargo are inspected where there is an identified need to do so and of all of these containers approximately 10% are subject to further examination based on the analysis of X-ray images.

Critical components of the process

* Timely reporting
In accordance with the Customs Act, the ABF require a cargo reporter to report all goods that they have arranged to be carried to Australia 48 hours prior to vessel arrival in most cases. Late reporting means the inspection process may commence late, take longer and may result in additional storage and related costs from container terminal operator(s) (CTO).

Who is responsible for cargo reporting to the ABF?
The shipping company and sub manifest reporter are responsible for reporting the contents of each container. As container examination is intelligence driven, detailed information is critical to process outcomes.

Storage Charges
CTOs currently provide three days’ free storage for containers once they are declared available after discharge of the vessel. The ABF endeavours to return all containers from the CEFs so that they can be collected without the importer incurring storage charges, however, this is not always possible due to a variety of regulatory and CTO requirements.

Transportation Logistics
While time slots can be booked in the CTOs vehicle booking system prior to the cargo being cleared by the ABF, it is a commercial reality that this process is dependent upon booking container receival slots in advance. Where slot bookings are made prior to ABF release to try and facilitate a speedy cargo turnaround, you become exposed to additional costs occurred from the cancellation of the slot time and subsequent cascading costs involving both transportation and labour time.

* Understanding the challenges experienced by your logistics solution provider
Your logistics solution provider has no control over the compounding effects of the sea cargo logistics chain when CEF intervention occurs. This chain is complex and requires integration of regulatory agencies, CTOs and all other parties involved in the cargo logistics delivery chain.

The links within the logistics chain include:

Predictability in ABF container release
Vehicle booking system time slots availability
Transport and importer availability
CTO operational patterns
ABF – CEF’s operational patterns

It only takes one of these links being out of step to disrupt the entire cargo logistics delivery chain process. Many of these issues are outside the control of, and are not the direct responsibility of, your logistics solutions provider. As such additional costs involved are a result of government policy and CEF intervention and unfortunately will be added to the importers account.

*What is the impact on your business?
Delays gaining access to cargo, the possibility of extra storage and subsequent CTO and transportation charges could be incurred for the reasons explained within this article.

While the ABF and their contracted service providers should exercise appropriate care for all cargo, it is good business practice to ensure you have arranged for the appropriate packing and insurance of goods. Any claims for damages and storage, where there is evidence to suggest this has arisen as a result of the CEF activities should be directed to the Compliments and Complaints department at comments@customs.gov.au in the first instance as to the ABF or their sub contractor’s liability.

*What can importers do?
As the challenges involved with the CEF process have arisen from government policy there is little that can be done to avoid the issues detailed. You can however, take note of the possibility of ABF CEF intervention as part of your normal operations and liaise carefully with your logistics service provider who will continue to facilitate your cargo release and communicate with you throughout the CEF process.

An option available for importers is to consider becoming an Australian Trusted Trader which is a voluntary trade facilitation initiative. It recognises businesses with a secure supply chain and compliant trade practices, rewarding accredited businesses with a range of trade facilitation benefits including priority trade service, differentiated examination and access to dedicated Account Manager. Perhaps the ABF may provide more predictability of sea cargo status at the border as part of the differentiated examination benefits to Australian Trusted Traders.

The Customs Brokers and Forwarders Council of Australia Inc (CBFCA) has been actively involved in CEF-related issues since the commencement of CEF operations in 2002 and has worked on behalf of its members with the ABF to review the concerns relating to delays in cargo release and the impact on the trading community since the introduction of the CEFs.

It has become evident that to achieve an operationally viable practice on behalf of the trading community, an increase in public awareness of the associated issues and subsequently an increase in pressure on relevant stakeholders to ensure predictability in container release and continuous process improvement is necessary.

* These challenges in the border clearance process are a result of the intervention of the ABF CEF process and the inherent lack of predictability in container release. These requirements are outside the control of your logistics solution provider and are the direct result of government policy. The additional costs created from the compounding effects of CEF intervention are NOT as a result of or indeed the responsibility of your logistics solution provider.

“This is a private opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of Lloyd’s List Australia.”

* Zoran Kostadinoski is the Southern Region Manager at the Customs Brokers and Forwarders Council of Australia Inc (CBFCA).

Want to read a bit more on container examinations?  Head to Container Examination Holds or Cargo Examinations – a cost of business.