Can You Ship Hazardous Materials in a Sea Freight Container

Definition of Hazardous Material

All Hazardous Materials’ definitions agree on one main fact. That is the hazardous materials – or Dangerous Materials (DG) – are items that are capable of posing a threat to health, safety, property, or the environment.

This definition gives an impression that shipping this kind of material is more difficult on an aircraft than by sea or land. Especially, when there are passengers around. The airlines have very strict restrictions on how and what to ship hazardous materials. Therefore, most shippers tend to move them by land or sea freight. Also, since the underlined word here is “hazardous/dangerous” then it makes sense that shipping such materials in consolidation with other types of cargo is not an easy or even possible option.

There are general groups (CLASS NUMBERS) that classify all kinds of dangerous goods :


CLASS 1 : Explosives : This includes any material that can detonate as a result of a chemical reaction this class is broken down into six “sub-class” or “sub-division” for things such as airbags, fireworks, .. etc.

CLASS 2 : Gases : It is broken down to 3 sub-divisions (flammable gases, non-flammable gases, toxic gases). It includes all the types of gases that are compressed or material that is completely gaseous at a standard atomic pressure.

CLASS 3 : Flammable Liquids : This includes either flammable liquids that are with a flash point temperature of no more than 60.5 C or any material in a liquid status that is with a flash point temperature of no more than 37.8 C.

CLASS 4 : Flammable Solids : There are three sub-divisions under CLASS 4 that includes ; flammable solids, Spontaneously Combustible (flammable when in contact with air), and Dangerous when wet.

CLASS 5 : Oxidizing Material, and Organic Peroxides : It is clearly only two sub-divisions; Oxidizing Material which is the material that can contribute to or cause combustion by yielding oxygen as the result of a chemical reaction (such as Bromine). The Organic peroxides are organic compounds containing the peroxide functional group (such as methyl ethyl ketone peroxide) which is used as a catalyst in manufacturing polyester resins.

CLASS 6 : Toxic and Infectious Substances : These are poisonous materials (not in the state of gas) that are toxic to human beings and can result in health hazard during transportation. Class 6 has two sub-divisions (Poisonous Material, and Biohazards)

CLASS 7 : Radioactive Material : These are materials that cause radiation that is harmful during the transportation process ( such as

CLASS 8 : Corrosives : Such material will result in full destruction of human skin if a contact happens for a certain period (such as Sodium Hydroxide)

CLASS 9 : Miscellaneous Hazardous Materials : This class here will welcome any dangerous goods that do not fall under any of the other Classes (such as dry ice, lithium ion batteries, .. etc.)

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Shipping Hazardous Materials by Sea

The most important steps in shipping hazardous materials by sea freight are Packing and documentation.

Packing dangerous goods is different than normal items. There are different standards and packing materials for different dangerous cargoes. Also, packing standards are different in air than in sea freight. Therefore, it is always better to get back to experts and certified people to assist with this part.

Documents also may differ based on the commodity and the mode of transport. However, it is important to always have at least the normal commercial documents (invoice, packing list, certificate of origin) with a DG Certificate (or DG Declaration) which describes what the material actually is and under what class it falls. Also, there is the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) that describes all details, substances, and usage of the items.

Penalties for Noncompliance When Shipping Hazardous Materials

Like any other part of the shipping industry, transporting HAZMAT without fulfilling all the requirements in packaging, documentation, declaration, and other shipment preparations may lead to very expensive fines. In some countries, it isn’t clear what the fines will be. On the other hand, counties like the United States have a clear table of fines that will reach a 6 figures number.

Instructions for Shipping Hazardous Materials

  1. MSDS ( Material Safety Data Sheet): This can be a good point to start the document preparations. Having a complete and properly filled MSDS will assist to know if the cargo is actually dangerous or not. It will also assist the carrier (airline or shipping line) in the decision to accept and estimate the cost of shipping it on board.
  2. If the cargo is confirmed to be falling under the dangerous goods category. It is a best practice to have a certified personnel check it and prepare it follow up on the preparation process to ship it. The basic knowledge should include safety and security measurements and more knowledge about shipping procedures and requirements.
  3. Decide the Class number and UN Number ( United Nation Number) which specify more accurately what is the cargo and what does it need.
  4. Based on the Class and UN numbers, decide what is the proper packaging material and process to make sure the cargo is completely safe to ship by air or sea freight.
  5. Do the right marking and labeling for the cargo : use the prepor DG label with the right class number and other labels to describe more details such as shipping document reference number (Bill of Lading or Air WayBill), the total number of pieces, shipper, consignee, origin, and destination.
  6. Fill out all the required applications by the customs department at origin to finish the documentation part.
  7. Book the space on the desired airline or shipping line and your shipment is ready to be moving.

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Karim Nasser

VP at Globitex with more than 15 years of experience in shipping and transportation in Air, Sea, Land freight, and courier. Now for a couple of years, more into digital freight. I believe in a saying “ in shipping, we deliver hope not only shipments”.