ABF Examinations

We’ve highlighted the need for the Australian Border Force (ABF) to conduct holds on imported containers into Australia previously. This is necessary and integral, and is an acceptable method of border control in the supply chain.

Recently the Freight and Trade Alliance (FTA), along with input from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australia Border Force (ABF), has prepared the following advice outlining Container Examination Facility (CEF) related processes and statutory reporting obligations.

The CEF utilises modern technology to enable the ABF to fulfil its border protection role. The ABF has stated approximately 90% of containers selected for examination are x-rayed, released within 30 minutes and immediately returned to the stevedore. The remaining 10% may incur some form of delay as they are selected for more detailed physical examination.

To minimise associated costs incurred for delayed release of cargo, it is essential that importers supply timely and accurate import data, permits and documentation to customs brokers in order to meet statutory requirements.

Post the October 2005 Integrated Cargo system (ICS) implementation, Customs and Border Protection, now ABF, have increasingly focussed on import declarations as an important source of data to complete their border risk assessment in identifying illegal activity.

This resulted in the release of Australian Customs Notice (ACN) 2011/58 highlighting the importance of early lodgement of import declarations.

So how does this affect industry?

Commercial penalties apply in the form of stevedore storage charges in circumstances when “late” import declarations or cargo reports are lodged and consignments have been selected for Cargo Examination Facility (CEF) assessment.
In the event that a container is subject to further ABF CEF assessment, storage fees are administered by stevedores despite the fact the container may not be physically unavailable for collection.
To be eligible for the extended storage arrangements, two criteria must exist:
1. the cargo report has to be provided to the ABF in line with statutory provisions outlined above; AND
2. in accordance with recommendations outlined in Australian Customs Cargo Advice (ACCA) 2012/18, the Import Declaration has to be lodged at least 24 hours prior to the vessel arrival at the port of discharge.

Adelaide, Darwin, Launceston, Townsville and Newcastle

As outlined in ACCA 2009/05 and assuming the above reporting / declaration requirements have been satisfied, containers selected for CEF intervention will receive existing storage arrangements (a minimum of three days) from when they are returned from the CEF.

Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle

As outlined in ACCA 2009/05 and assuming the above reporting / declaration requirements have been satisfied, containers selected for CEF intervention will receive 24 hours free storage from when they are returned from the CEF.


Clause 17 of the Port Botany Landside Improvement Strategy (PBLIS) Mandatory Standards states that stevedores must provide free storage for the day the container is returned from the CEF and for the next two days after that. Again, these extended storage arrangements are contingent on the above reporting / declaration requirements being satisfied.

What about detention fees for late container dehire?

We are sorry to advise that importers have very little (if any) recourse. While ABF has in place procedures with stevedores, to date there are no similar arrangements in place with shipping lines. Whether or not reporting has been completed within prescribed timelines, shipping lines commonly charge a fee if containers are not dehired (returned) to an empty container park within agreed terms.

Late targeting by the ABF

On occasions and no matter whether statutory reporting requirements have been met, the ABF may change the status of a container after it has received a “clear” status. Please note, in these circumstances ABF will not compensate the importer for storage charges or container detention charges administered by stevedores and shipping lines.

In order to best assist in the logistics process and where the late change of status occurs 24 hours or more after the lodgement of all required risk assessment documentation, arrangements are in place to contact the customs broker.

As outlined in ACCA 2012/18, the ABF will provide the following services in relation to late status change:

1. ABF to contact Customs brokers by telephone advising details of late status changes to sea cargo. A confirmation email will also be sent to assist Customs brokers in advising their clients of delays in cargo release;
2. ABF to respond within twenty-four (24) hours to industry requests for updated information about the status of late change consignments. The focus of advice will be to confirm that clearance activities are in train and that there is no further work required by Industry to expedite clearance.

Do you have further questions about border holds / x-ray holds?  Please contact our customs team today.