Saturday, October 06, 2007

Little boxes, little boxes

Little boxes made for cricketers.
You stick one down your trousers
To protect you in the game.
There are pink ones and brown ones
And one made of aluminium,
But if you catch a googly
It will hurt you just the same.

Another type of box is the ubiquitous ISO container. Steel boxes, typically 40 feet or 20 feet long, designed to interlock like Lego and designed to fit on to trucks, freight rail wagons and on to ships and barges. The concept is brilliant. Rent or buy the volume and have it moved from here to there. Assuming that your box doesn't fall off the ship and spend its final hours being a hazard to navigation before descending into the abyss, all your worldly goods arrive unscathed at their destination.

I am not an expert on the minutiae of container handling. But something that I've noticed for a while has finally got me to the keyboard. It was brought to a head a couple of days ago when I spotted an interchange loop closed all day while a 40-foot container was being lifted out of the road by a large mobile crane and plonked back on to a flatbed truck. Evidently the truck had gone around the interchange at high speed (for a given value of high) and the container had slid or rolled off the back, landing with a clang on the road. I dread to think what happened to the contents. Hopefully not Ming vases, Queen Anne furniture or miscellaneous gentlemen who seem to have mislaid their passports.

Why did the box fall off? Look at the photo. At each of the eight corners is a hollow block which is designed to receive a locking device. I wonder if the container was actually locked on to the truck?

The twistlock typically takes the form of a rectangular lump of metal with a handle on the bottom and a pyramid on the top. The container is placed on the truck, and at each corner one of these devices is inserted up through the load bed into the container and given a quarter turn to lock it. Now the container can't possibly slide off, and can only roll by taking the entire vehicle with it.

And yet, in my unscientific and rather frightening survey last Friday, around 60% of the containers aboard trucks on the Emirates Road were unsecured. I don't know what the law says about it, but common sense suggests that a thirty-tonne brick (or 2.4 tonnes if it's empty) would do a lot of damage to the road if it were to fall off. It might hurt the truck driver if he stomped hard on his brakes and the container came hurtling through the back of the cab. Containers falling off trucks are not uncommon. Look for the huge gouges in the asphalt on interchange loops. Listen to the local radio for tales of traffic jam woe.

What really concerns me is the prospect of one of these containers unexpectedly sliding off and squashing a car. My car. With someone I know in it. There was a case reported a couple of years ago in Doha where a taxi and occupants were squashed flat by an errant container. The taxi was about 50cm thick, and that was only because the container hadn't managed to squash the engine block.

Surely there ought to be some laws, rules or Codes of Practice to prevent containers from being unsecured? And how about some enforcement? Preferably before someone else's household goods get rattled around like a couple of brickbats in a cement mixer.


DUBAI JAZZ said...

Interesting observations! been panicking myself shitless every time I am having to drive next to a loosely laid container (like it is not enough with all the road problems already)
As you said, one should wonder why the law is not enforced upon the loading and transportation of these containers, since (if I am not mistaken) the majority of the loading takes place inside the government-controlled ports (Rashid, Jebel Ali...) and under the eyes of its own inspectors...

El Casareño Ingles said...

In some countries the trailer is not equipped with locking devices, merely pins on which the ISO container sits. In the normal course of transport the weight of the container holds itself to the trailer frame.

A couple of years back one budding F.Alonso wannabe drivng a 42 tonne artic loaded with a 15m concrete bridge section did what you describe right in front of me.

Needless to say, the strongest looking straps in the world parted like wet toilet paper and a 50m gouge in the tarmac was the result. The gouge is still there.

nzm said...

After reading this, it makes me really happy that our container from Dxb to Melbourne arrived safely and with no damage!


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