The Life Raft When Containers Go Overboard? Visibility Data

More than 1,000 containers of freight dropped into the sea last year. In fact, the World Shipping Council found that in the last two years, more than 3,100 containers have fallen overboard, four times the amount from the previous two-year period.

Big, newsworthy disasters like cargo ship fires and Suez Canal blockages are one thing, but even run-of-the mill mechanical delays, extreme weather events, labor and supply shortages, and geopolitical events are leading to record disruptions.  In fact, in 2021, Resilinc reported an 88% increase in supply chain disruptions over 2020.

Everyone involved in the global supply chain has learned that significant disruptions are the new normal.

The time for better freight visibility has come.

So many of these disruptions are out of a forwarder’s control. Taking steps to diversify shipping lanes can help, but there is also a clear need for better visibility into shipments’ locations and milestones throughout the global supply chain.

Often as consumers, we know where our packages are at any given time, as well as where they have been, and when we can expect them to arrive.

Shippers and retailers often don’t have the same ability to track their containers and products as they ship from manufacturers across the globe. Unless a shipper is working with a forwarder that has advanced visibility data integrated into their systems, the shipper will have to call, email, and hound their forwarder to find out where their stuff is and when it will arrive.

For example, remember being a forwarder servicing customers when news came through about the Zim Kingston, where over 100 freight containers caught fire and fell overboard, forever lost to sea. Suddenly an influx of calls came in, asking, “was my stuff on that ship? Did it sink? Do I have any of those same SKU’s on any other ships?”

Even with data from a visibility provider available, your team probably had to spend many hours or even days combing through thousands of pieces of information to understand which customers had products aboard the ship and which products were lost.

Then you had to manually communicate and share the details with each impacted customer – all while fielding frantic calls and emails from panicked clients.

Now imagine the freight forwarder who had all the necessary visibility data already loaded into their TMS. Those forwarders were able to provide proactive and timely updates through a disaster and probably won loyalty for life.

Innovations in freight visibility abound.

Thankfully for forwarders and their customers, the rapid growth of cutting-edge, real-time visibility providers has begun to provide better data and insights than anyone in the industry has ever had access to before.

Led by key software companies like Marine Traffic, project44, Terminal49, and Vizion, Gartner expects the Real-Time Transportation Visibility Platform (RTTVPs) market to grow to over $1 billion by 2024. These RTTVPs are paving a way toward a more informed digital shipping market where anyone can have real-time insights into the status of their shipments.

This tremendous innovation in visibility data in recent years has revolutionized the logistics industry. The challenge is that those innovations have been focused on shippers. Forwarders have had a tough time making that data valuable at an operational level and incorporating it into existing workflows.

The best practices around visibility for forwarders need to change. Forwarders used to get all their data from carriers and terminals, but now the best, highest-quality data is coming from third parties. That means all the orchestration and processes need to evolve to take advantage of the latest and greatest insights while also providing value to customers..

The way to realize the full potential of visibility data is to make visibility data more visible. Integrating visibility data directly across systems is key to keeping partners informed, customers happy, and employees available to scale your business.  By operationalizing best practices specifically for forwarders, we’re able to make the data valuable to forwarders in a new way.

Operationalize your visibility data.

A great first step to ensuring your team is better prepared before the next shipping disaster and the future forwarding market is to work with one of the afore-mentioned visibility providers, rather than relying on the limited and inaccurate data that disparate systems may already provide. Visibility data from a third-party provider gives you a clear picture into the full shipment lifecycle, allowing you and your customers to make better business decisions.

Having reliable visibility data available instantly within your TMS or other native systems gives you insight into the location of your customers’ shipments, so during disasters and disruptions, you can quickly communicate status updates, address concerns, and earn customer trust. With your TMS and visibility data providers integrated, your team will spend less time manually tracking shipments, making calls, and updating data, and more time focusing on better serving your customers, putting your company ahead of the competition and providing more opportunities for growth.

Furthermore, automating non-essential business processes—such as email responses and document completion—as well as crafting well-defined standard operating procedures for cases involving containers overboard and lost cargo are other ways to avoid potential risks and build stronger relationships with your shipping customers and partners.

Shipping disasters, like containers overboard, are ongoing disruptions that freight forwarders will continue to battle as eCommerce booms and shipping demands exceed capacity. But by integrating your visibility data and harmonizing your systems, you won’t have to rely on a life raft to understand where your shipments are when the next disaster strikes.


Author Bio: Brian Glick is founder and CEO of He has made a career of simplifying complex supply chain and trade compliance IT challenges. Whether analyzing complex coding issues or rationalizing the compliance impacts of a vendor direct drop ship program, Brian brings a rare combination of executive perspective and deep technical knowledge to today’s supply chain challenges. From the early days web based visibility platforms and into today’s cloud revolution, Brian has been an active leader in each phase of the connected supply chain evolution. With a focus on retail and apparel supply chains, Brian has brought his expertise to bear as an IT leader both within logistics service providers and through independent software companies.