Part 2: Managing the biosecurity risks associated with sea containers

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry: Managing biosecurity risks associated with high-risk sea containers.

In this Part, we describe the:

Importing sea containers

The number of sea containers imported into New Zealand increased from about 350,000 in 2000-01 to about 550,000 in 2004-05. Of the sea containers imported in 2004-05, 45% arrived in Auckland, 24% in Tauranga, and 10% in Christchurch. The other sea ports throughout the country received 5% or less.

The process by which sea containers are imported into New Zealand is complex. It involves many different parties, including:

  • importers – who order the goods from overseas, and who receive the goods on arrival in New Zealand;
  • customs brokers – who work on behalf of the importer to handle all or some of the regulatory and administrative aspects of importing sea containers;
  • exporters – who sell goods to importers;
  • logistics companies, freight forwarders, shipping companies – which are involved in transporting sea containers from the exporter to the importer, and may also offer customs brokerage, warehousing, and distribution services;
  • port companies – which manage the entry of ships into New Zealand, and may also unload the sea container from the ships and operate a sea container yard; and
  • stevedores – who unload sea containers from ships, and move sea containers around shipping yards.

Biosecurity risks associated with sea containers

A sea container can be contaminated with pests or diseases that could pose serious risks to our primary production industries (and therefore our economy), and our biodiversity.

The contamination discussed in this report can be on the inside or outside of the sea container, or in or on the packaging material used to prevent the goods from damage during transportation. The Sea Container Import Health Standard defines contamination associated with sea containers as –

Animals, insects or other invertebrates (alive or dead, in any life cycle stage, including egg casings or rafts), or any organic material of animal origin (including blood, bones, hair, flesh, secretions, excretions); viable or [unviable] plant or plant products (including fruit, seeds, leaves, twigs, roots, bark); or other organic material, including fungi; or soil or water; where such products are not the manifested cargo being imported.

The results of a survey of more than 11,000 sea containers, published by the Ministry in 2003, showed that imported sea containers pose risks to New Zealand’s biosecurity.1 Our 2002 audit found that it was possible that sea containers had been responsible for several pest incursions in recent years – including the Southern Saltmarsh Mosquito and Painted Apple Moth.

Responsibilities for managing the biosecurity risks associated with sea containers

The Ministry co-ordinates the Government’s biosecurity programme, and has overall accountability and leadership for managing biosecurity.

There are 2 business groups within the Ministry with responsibilities for managing sea containers, Biosecurity New Zealand (Biosecurity NZ) and the Quarantine Service.

2.9 Biosecurity NZ is responsible for:

  • import health standards;
  • the accreditation and audit of providers and facilities in relation to managing the biosecurity risks associated with sea containers;
  • risk profiles for sea containers; and
  • controlling, managing, or eradicating pests and diseases should they arrive.

The Quarantine Service is responsible for providing domestic and offshore technical inspection and clearance services at the border.

Figure 1 shows a simplified organisational structure for the Ministry’s management of sea containers.

Figure 1
The Ministry of Agriculture and forestry's organisational structure for managing sea containers

Figure 1.

Policy framework for managing the biosecurity risks associated with sea containers

The Sea Container Import Health Standard outlines the requirements for managing biosecurity risks associated with the importation of sea containers and associated packaging material of goods inside containers.

The previous import health standard for managing the biosecurity risks associated with sea containers had been in place since 1998. In 2003, the Ministry reviewed that import health standard, and made significant changes to how the biosecurity risks associated with sea containers are managed.

The Border Monitoring Group told us that, after the implementation of the revised Sea Container Import Health Standard in January 2004, the “post-border” interceptions of pests associated with sea containers in 2004 fell by 66% compared with the number of post-border interceptions in 2003. This is partly explained by the reclassification of transitional facilities (where sea containers are unpacked) to be part of the border system, rather than post-border.

Risk profiling

For some types of biosecurity risk, for example, airline passengers and their bags, the Ministry is able to inspect comprehensively – every person and every bag. However, sea containers are large and usually full of goods and packaging material. It is not practicable to thoroughly inspect them all.

Instead, the Ministry uses risk profiling to identify those sea containers that are most likely to pose the highest risk. We discuss risk profiling in Part 4.

High-risk sea containers

The Sea Container Import Health Standard defines high-risk sea containers as those deemed to have a higher than average probability of being contaminated, of carrying goods not recorded on the manifest, or of carrying packaging material that is not on the manifest or that is prohibited. In addition, if a Quarantine Service inspector has reasonable grounds to suspect that a sea container has a higher chance of being contaminated, that sea container is also deemed to be high risk.

Sea containers are deemed to have a high risk of exterior contamination if they come from countries where there is a high risk that the Giant African Snail or Asian Gypsy Moth may have contaminated the sea container, if they have inadequate documentation (including quarantine declarations2), or if they come from any other high-risk areas specified by the Ministry.

Sea containers are deemed to have a high risk of internal contamination if they have no (or an inadequate) quarantine declaration, they contain prohibited packaging material, there is inadequate information on the contents of the sea container, or they have been specified by the Ministry as high risk for any other reason.

Inspecting sea containers

A Quarantine Service inspector will examine all 6 sides of a sea container that has been identified as high risk. This includes examining the top of the sea container, and lifting it on to a stand so that its underside can be inspected. The sea container may be decontaminated (fumigated or cleaned), or an equivalent system3 may be used to ensure that the biosecurity risks are managed. We discuss this part of the process in Part 5.

All other sea containers undergo a much quicker 4-sided examination (looking at the sides of, but not on top of, or underneath, the sea container). The Ministry calls this type of examination, if performed by a Quarantine Service inspector, an inspection. If an accredited person does it, the Ministry calls it a check.

All sea containers are unpacked under the supervision of an accredited person or a Quarantine Service inspector who checks for, and informs the Ministry of, any contamination of the sea container (inside and outside), the packaging material, or the goods inside the sea container. In addition, the Quarantine Service inspects some imported goods. We did not consider checks by accredited persons, or the inspection of goods, as part of our audit (see paragraphs 1.8-1.9).

The Ministry issues the biosecurity clearance for a sea container when all the requirements under the Sea Container Import Health Standard are met, and the Ministry is confident that the container is free from contamination.

1: Border Management Group (2003), Sea Container Review, MAF Discussion Paper No. 35, ISBN 0-478-07744-0, ISSN 1171-8951.

2: A quarantine declaration is a document signed by a manager of the packing or export facility in the country of origin. It states that the container was inspected internally and externally and found to be free of contaminants, and what packaging material was used.

3: An equivalent system is an alternative arrangement to that specified in the Sea Container Import Health Standard that manages biosecurity risks to the same standard as the Sea Container Import Health Standard.

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