Containerisation and compliance

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The role Exis has played in shipping dangerous goods over the past 35 years and future plans for Safety of Life and Cargo at Sea

When the roots of containerisation began back in 1956 spearheaded by American entrepreneur Malcom McLean looking for a way to get his trucking company’s entire cargo loaded onto a shipping vessel as quickly and efficiently as possible, it would have been hard to expect that by 2022 container shipping would be transporting around 90% of non-bulk cargo. Around 10% of which is recognised as Dangerous Goods.

In 2022 Exis Technologies celebrates 35 years supplying  IT solutions for the management of dangerous goods in sea transport, helping shippers, consignors, forwarders and shipping lines to comply with regulatory requirements of shipping containerised dangerous goods by sea.  Early, paper based, methods of shipping dangerous goods were time consuming and relied on many people in the process understanding the cargo and its handling requirements. Getting the answers wrong to important questions like; Which goods are actually classified as dangerous goods? Can they be shipped together safely in a container? What packaging do they need? and Where should they be stowed in the ship?, could be catastrophic.

In 1987, the IMDG Code, produced by the International Maritime Organization, only existed in book format and widespread use of digital solutions was not prevalent in the shipping industry. After the first digital dangerous goods list database was developed by programmers at Exis, basic look up tools for international multimodal regulations followed to speed up the booking process. By the 1990s Exis had its own digital solutions with the ability to find the correct UN numbers or proper shipping name , perform packaging, segregation /stowage checks and produce documentation that could be used in the transport chain. Exis continued to innovate and by 2010 Hazcheck Validation Systems had been implemented by 9 of the top 10 container lines. In parallel, Exis’ IMDG Code e-learning training tool was also launched in line with IMO’s new mandatory IMDG Code training guidelines.

Digital solutions produced by Exis have allowed the businesses to keep pace with the advancement of container shipping today.  When Exis was formed in 1987, the largest container ships, restricted in size by the Panama Canal, carried around 4,600 TEU, now Ultra Large Container Ships with capacity of almost 24,000 TEU can be regularly spotted in container ports. In 1980, 102 million tons of cargo  was being carried by container ships globally. By 2017, this figure had jumped to 1.834 million tons  (source UNCTAD, Clarkson Research Services copyright Statista 2019) – a massive 1,698 % increase!

The advancement of the containerisation of shipping in the past 35 years in particular has had a transformative effect on the size of vessels, port infrastructure and continues to influence the development of road and rail networks globally. Since 1968 and the creation of the standard 20 foot long, 8 foot high and 8 foot wide box which has led the design of container ships, ports, road and rail networks, cities and countries have been revolutionized all over the world.

Collaborations and new initiatives

Exis does not stand still, seeking out new collaborations and driving through initiatives to help with continued safety improvements in containerisation. In 2011 the Cargo Incident Notification System (CINS) was launched, a major industry collaboration involving 5 of the top container lines to analyse global operational information on all cargo and container related accidents. Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2021, it has 17 shipping line members which represent over 85% of the world’s container slot capacity. Exis now a CINS advisory member, developed the CINSnet database that drives the CINS initiative. Exis was also able to contribute to a new industry-accepted safety considerations for the stowage of DG on board containerships prepared by CINS and led by Maersk following the fire on the Maersk Honam. Exis Technologies was part of the working group and gave input focused around its detailed knowledge of the IMDG Code Dangerous Goods List, stowage requirements, and categorizing specific UN numbers into risk zones. Hazcheck Risk Zone data comprising UN number, packing group and risk zones is now available as a free resource to the container shipping industry.

In 2018 Exis became part of New York based container/vessel cargo surveying and inspection company National Cargo Bureau with the joint mission of Safety of Life and Cargo at Sea. NCB’s Dangerous Goods White Paper launched in 2020, addresses the need to look at how the industry can join together to implement a robust approach to dangerous goods shipping and to avoid the carriage of undeclared and misdeclared DG. Statistics from the TT Club – a leading provider of insurance for the international transport and logistics sector – suggest that, on average, a containership is involved in a major fire every 60 days. This isn’t being helped by the fact that cargo is deliberately declared incorrectly to save cost or time, or misdeclared.  Larger vessels are most affected. With around 60 million packed containers being moved each year, 10 per cent of which are declared as dangerous goods. Some ships carry more than 1,000 containers with dangerous goods on any given voyage.

NCB and Exis have been working on ground breaking new tools over the past 4 years to help with the dilemmas that containerisation can bring. Hazcheck Detect, the API based cargo screening solution launched in 2020 is already in use with a number of large container lines including Maersk.  It scans all booking details for keywords and creates an industry library to enable suspicious bookings to be identified that may be misdeclared and undeclared dangerous goods (DG). Cargo screening allows non-compliant cargo to be detected within seconds rather than days. Last minute changes to bookings, declarations, Bills of Lading and shipping instructions can be picked up in real time. This immediate response avoids such cargo from being loaded onto a ship, thereby avoiding the risk of fires at sea.

New technologies and the importance of data

As the shipment of dangerous goods is complex, Blockchain may be a good way to increase safety in the maritime sector. A key proposition for using Blockchain for this purpose is digital traceability of DG through the supply chain, increasing security and transparency. In 2018 Exis took part in the misdeclaration of dangerous goods blockchain project, Maritime Blockchain Labs, led by Bloc with the support of Lloyd’s Register Foundation. There are still challenges to be addressed with the use of Blockchain, but if players in the supply chain are willing and able to share their data in the future it could play a big part in the safety of containerised shipments being used to digitise diverse DG documentation, automate transmission and updating of DG information.

We are now able to collect large amounts of data from all of our Hazcheck tools. In 2021, with our Hazcheck tools for declared dangerous goods, we were performing more than 400,000 validations per month, representing 82% of the world’s DG/hazmat container traffic, and picking up around 4,000 rejections per month. The Hazcheck Inspections used by NCB in their container inspection database has an excess of 100,000 data records and is constantly growing. Hazcheck Detect is screening more than 15 million shipments per month. These data sets along with machine learning and AI techniques will be able to help improve the detection of invalid and dangerous shipments by creating new rules and search terms.

In 2022 we are looking forward to another year of delivering advancements in our industry solutions because there is no standing still in the ever changing world of containerisation.


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