Crux Systems Insights

Container holds and what they mean for your cargo

August 11, 2017 by Siri Casper |


If a hold is placed on your cargo, it won’t be leaving the terminal until the issue has been resolved. Here’s what you need to know about some of the more common types of holds, and how to handle them.

Terminal holds

If you have a demurrage fee on a container, it isn’t technically a hold, but you won’t be able to pick up your container until the fee has been paid. A container has a certain number of free days (typically 7-10) that it can be in the terminal after it has been discharged from the ship. If you don’t pick up your container before the last free day, you’ll be charged demurrage fees. Settling demurrage fees vary from terminal to terminal and cargo owners should check directly with each terminal to determine the payment methods accepted. Learn more about demurrage fees and how to avoid them.

At the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach, you may have a TMF hold or Traffic Mitigation Fee. This fee is charged to pick up cargo during peak hours. TMF holds can be resolved through third parties such as PierPass or by contacting the terminals for other payment methods.

Customs holds

ISF or Importer Security Filing holds are a type of customs holds imposed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency. Additional trade data on cargo shipments must be provided to the agency at least 24 hours prior to the vessel arriving at the terminal. In order to get your cargo in a timely manner, be sure to provide all required documentation in advance.

Another type of customs hold is the VACIS (vehicle and cargo inspection system) hold. The VACIS system essentially takes an X-ray of the cargo to identify contraband. If the agency has determined that your cargo will be subject to a VACIS exam, it will have a VACIS hold until it has been cleared at port.

Some cargo owners may also find that their containers have an MET hold. MET stands for Manifest Examination Team, which is a division within the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency. They conduct MET exams on a random basis or for suspicious cargo to verify invoices, packing lists, manifests, and other documentation.

Commercial Enforcement Holds (CEH holds) are becoming more frequent. Customs issues this type of hold when they need to verify that the cargo meets product safety standards and do not infringe on any copyrights or trademarks. If your cargo contains products that may result in this type of hold, make sure to have all proof of compliance and paperwork ready to clear your cargo.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration holds are another type of customs hold you may have associated with your containers. Under this type of hold, you can pick up your cargo, however, you can’t sell or alter the contents until the FDA hold is lifted. The FDA will send a notification when you can use, sell, or alter your cargo, or will notify you if the shipment must be returned to the vendor. This process can take anywhere between four to six weeks, so make sure all of your products and cargo have been cleared by the FDA in advance.

Line holds

Steamship line holds usually happen when the steamship company has not received either payment of collect charges or the original bill of lading. The original bill of lading must be properly endorsed and a release must be sent to the freight location in order to lift this type of hold.

Steamship lines may also charge a detention fee (or per diem fee). While this is not technically a hold, it must be resolved in order to pick up your container. Detention charges are issued by the shipping line when containers are kept past the allowed free period before being returned to the terminal.

USDA holds

AQI, also known as Agricultural and Quarantine Inspection Service, is a protocol implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify and eliminate threats to U.S. agriculture and the environment from invasive animals, plants, and diseases. The USDA works closely with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to inspect cargo arriving from overseas. Cargo with a AQI or USDA hold must be inspected and if necessary treated before it can be released.
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