Container Rollover [Causes, What to Do, How to Avoid & More]

A guide to container rollover. Discover what it is, what causes it, what to do about it and actionable ways to avoid it.

By Sotiria Kontopoulou

March 14, 2023

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Table of Contents


What is Container Rollover?

Key Factors Causing Container Rollover

What Happens if a Container Gets Rolled?

What You Can do About it

Container Rollover Charges

How to Avoid Having Your Cargo Rolled



Container rollovers are a serious problem for businesses that rely on maritime transportation. They cause delays, lost shipments and damage to cargo, leading to dissatisfied customers.
Fortunately, we know the major factors that lead to contain rollovers and what steps can be taken to avoid or mitigate the effects. There are things you can do if it happens to you or your cargo.
Learn more about container rollovers and how to avoid them with MarineTraffic.


What is Container Rollover?

Container rollover (aka cargo rollover) is essentially a situation where a container is not loaded onto the designated vessel or otherwise becomes dislodged from the vessel during transit.
This can be caused by a variety of factors, including improper loading or securing of the container, poor weather conditions, or a malfunction of the vessel's equipment.
While container rollover is a risk in the shipping industry, it can be prevented and mitigated by implementing effective safety measures. Let's explore the steps that can be taken in this regard.

Key Factors Causing Container Rollover

Container rollovers are more likely to occur with cargoes that require a transshipment, as the containers must be loaded several times onto different ships, increasing the risk that they'll rollover and miss a connecting ship.

However, incidents can also occur in other scenarios and can be caused by a range of factors, such as:

  • Improper loading or securing of the container
  • Poor weather conditions
  • Ship equipment malfunction

Here are the most common factors:

Shipper factors

A shipper's primary goal is to fulfil orders and ship cargo on time. However, this isn't always possible because:

  • The exporter may not ship the goods until payment has been received.
  • Due to quality issues, production failures or late deliveries, orders can’t be processed on time and the ship is missed.
  • Inconsistent or erroneous shipping documents may affect customs clearance or the bill of lading.
  • Sometimes a shipment consists of several containers, but not all of them are loaded on time.


Trucker factors

Accidental container rollovers can also occur when containers are transported between the shipper's premises and the port.

  • The truck driver may not always be able to pick up the cargo at the time and date requested by the shipper.
  • The truck driver may have picked up the cargo but failed to load the container on time, missing the ship's loading closing time. 
  • Occasionally, truck shortages occur – especially during peak season when demand is high and supply is limited.

Consignee factors

An incident can also occur if the receiver requests a later departure after the containers have already entered the port.

  • The shipper may hold the shipment at the port of loading until the consignee makes the agreed payment.
  • For various reasons, such as insufficient staffing or limited storage space, the consignee may simply not be ready to accept the shipment.

Broker factors

Also, brokers can play a role in a container rollover if the cargo is misdeclared or further customs inspections are required.

  • Shippers must ensure that brokers receive the correct cargo information promptly to avoid misdeclarations.
  • Restrictions on cargo exports mean that port authorities may require additional documentation, which can delay export.
  • Sometimes – depending on the cargo – customs, border patrol or port authorities may want to inspect the container physically.

Freight forwarder factors

Freight forwarders handle paperwork and communication between shippers and suppliers. They can also cause container rollovers.

  • Documentation delays can cause containers to be taken out of circulation for some time, leading to delays.
  • Unconfirmed rate filings, late transmission and poor communication with shipping companies are all reasons that lead to rollovers.

Shipping line factors

Overbooking of ships, omission of ports, ship problems and misplanning are factors that affect container shipping.

  • When ships are full or cannot accommodate enough containers, some may not be loaded onto the designated ship or may have to take a different route.
  • When ships are overbooked, certain containers are rolled over by shipping companies to maximise revenue.
  • There may be times when lengthy repairs due to mechanical or technical problems prevent a vessel from leaving the port.

Of course, rollover of containers can have other causes. These can be related to the port or even come from outside and be uncontrollable.


What Happens if a Container Gets Rolled?

If the shipment is postponed due to a carrier problem, the carrier will automatically reschedule your shipment and load it on the next available ship. Any additional shipping costs will then be borne by the carrier.

However, if your cargo is rolled due to missing paperwork, customs issues, or failure to comply with certain regulations, you'll be charged the cost of rescheduling.

If your cargo is rolled, the carrier will send customers an updated booking confirmation with the new information. If you use a freight forwarder, they will receive this information from the carrier and forward it to you.

Consequences of having rolled containers

If your container is rolled, you can expect additional rollover rates (such as demurrage, detention and per diem charges) scheduling issues and ultimately late deliveries that may result in dissatisfied customers.

Demurrage and detention refer to the costs incurred for the use of equipment when loaded cargo containers remain in the port terminal or outside the terminal beyond the specified free time.

Per diem (per day) is a fixed-rate charge per container per day until the equipment is returned to the port or container yard.

Unfortunately, these charges can be very expensive. There have been cases where shippers have paid more than 20 times the value of a container in such fees. 

What You Can do About it

It's never fun to hear that your container didn't make the vessel. 

You have to hurriedly inform your supply chain partners, update your accounting, work on spreadsheets and clean up as much as possible and correct what went wrong on your end, if anything. 

Whether or not it was an error on your part, there is still plenty of accounting work to be done, not to mention the potential delays the global supply chain now faces. 

When you learn that your container has been rolled, the first thing you should do is find out why. Was it pandemic-related? Freight rates you didn't anticipate? Port congestion at one of the major ports? 

If it's a paperwork issue or a missed cut-off or customs inspection, resolve the problem before the next departure date to avoid further delays.

If it's a problem such as overbooking or unreliable scheduling, there's nothing you can do but wait for the next departure.

Make sure you talk to your freight forwarder who can better advise you in cases like this. Freight forwarders have the most experience with global container rollovers and can advise you on upcoming sailing schedules.

Container Rollover Charges

Container rollover charges and policies can vary from port to port. 

Those variations don’t just occur globally; between Rotterdam and a port in Asia, like Hong Kong or Malaysia, for example. There can also be differences between the east coast and west coast of North America.

What you can usually expect, however, is that the charges will amount to a percentage of the total cost of shipping the container.

For example, if a company charges $100 to ship a container and has a rollover charge of 10%, then the customer would be responsible for an additional $10.

Before signing any agreements, customers will usually be made aware of rollover charges, which are typically disclosed in the contract. 

But because the charges depend on the policies of each port, it's difficult for shipping companies to predict and estimate how much it'll cost their clients if it comes to that.

Now let’s take a look at how to avoid your cargo being rolled.

How to Avoid Having Your Cargo Rolled

Fortunately, container rollovers can be reduced or even prevented with some planning.

You can reduce the risk of container rollers by following these seven steps:

Ensure all containers are properly loaded

To start with, ensure that all containers are properly loaded and secured to the ship. This includes checking that the cargo inside the container is properly secured and that the container is properly balanced.

The last thing you want is for the ship to arrive at its destination with an empty container!

Leverage technology

Use technology to identify potential issues before they occur. Cargo tracking visibility software can provide weather forecasting and alerts that help shipping companies plan ahead and reduce risks.

Such software can also provide real-time data on the condition of ship equipment, such as cranes and other ocean freight handling equipment.

Technology like MarineTraffic's tracks users' cargo in real time and provides a complete overview of all container events, including all stops, locations and ships, which can help them avoid a potential incident.

Regularly inspect the ship’s equipment

Maintain and inspect the ship's equipment to ensure that it is in good working order, as a malfunction can easily cause container rollover.

For example, if the ship's cranes or other cargo-handling equipment fail, it can result in several containers not being properly loaded or secured.

Ensure shipping documents are accurate

Ensuring the accuracy of shipping documents is the responsibility of the shipper and should be a priority. 

Make sure that all shipping documents are coherent, in good order, and comply with local regulations.

Try to avoid peak seasons

Cargo tends to get rolled when there's limited space on the vessel. That generally occurs during a holiday season, such as before Christmas, Eid and Chinese New Year, or between mid-August and mid-October.

Consider working with a 3PL or 4PL provider

Working with third-party logistics (3PL) and fourth-party logistics (4PL) providers can improve shipment planning and coordination processes in your supply chain.

They act as logistics integrators, working with multiple service providers to create customised solutions, helping to increase efficiency, lower costs, and even reduce the risk of overlap by closely monitoring all shipments.

Avoid transshipments

Containers travelling toward transshipment ports have a much higher risk of being rolled. 

First in the port of departure and then in the ports of transshipment, however many there are and wherever they may be.

Now Over to You

Overall, while container rollover is a risk in the shipping industry, it can be mitigated through proper safety precautions and the implementation of effective safety measures.

Nevertheless, shipping companies must have an emergency response plan in place. 

This includes having equipment and personnel in place to handle such disruptions and respond quickly and effectively to the incident.

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Sotiria Kontopoulou

Sotiria Kontopoulou

Content Manager at MarineTraffic


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