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Every care is taken when you instruct a carrier or forwarder to transport your goods. But sometimes, something happens, and your cargo is lost or damaged. 

But what happens next? What should you do?

What do we do?

Find out here.

The Risk Of Shipping Goods

When you export or import goods within the UK or further afar, there is always the possibility that something will go wrong in transit or whilst the cargo is in the hands of someone else.


If you’re using road freight to get your goods from A to B, there’s the risk of road traffic accidents, theft and hijacking. 


For sea freight, your consignment is in the hands of the ocean; adverse weather is one of the biggest threats to goods travelling this way, as well as piracy and damage to goods in transit due to the vessel’s movement.  


Sending your goods to their destination using an aeroplane means the weather can play a part here, too. Air freight is at risk of security threats such as hijacking, which puts both crew and cargo at risk. 

And no matter the mode of transport you choose for your freight, improper packing and labelling, incorrect container type and overloading are all controllable factors that can lead to something going wrong with your shipments. 

What Could Happen?

When something goes wrong during transportation, it could look like this.

  • Physical damage. Knocks, dents, complete breakages; anything that happens to your goods that means they aren’t in perfect condition will reduce their saleability.
  • Water damage. Cargo that gets wet, whether it’s sea freight that goes overboard or road freight left out in the rain during an accident, will sustain damage such as corrosion, warping and mildew.
  • Contamination. Unsanitary cargo areas, damaged packaging, and even bad employee habits can cause cargo to spoil and become contaminated.
  • Reefer-related damage. Reefers are shipping containers that carry temperature-sensitive goods at cold temperatures. When things go wrong, cargo is at risk of spoiling. 
  • Infestation. This generally happens to agricultural products and is defined by the presence of a large number of insects or animals that cause damage to the cargo. Infestation can also lead to contamination.
  • Loss. Sea freight that goes missing after the choppy seas of a big storm, labels falling off or becoming unreadable during transit and general human error – such as loading the wrong item – are all ways your consignments may not reach their correct destination. 

When Is Missing Missing?

So, how long should you wait to see if your shipment turns up?

Not long. You need to report your missing cargo right away. Check the status of your shipment using your tracking number in case that sheds some light; in some cases, there could be a delay, and your shipment will eventually find its way to the right place. 

But there are rare cases when a shipment cannot be located. If the tracking information is not clear, call the carrier for help. 

Your consignment is considered missing when it can’t be located within 7 – 10 days, although this period depends on the carrier. 

When you report part or all of your shipment as missing, dock searches are made at every terminal your cargo visited. There’s a specific department for this, called Overages, Shortages & Damages. If the shipment is not found, it is usually considered unrecoverable. 

What To Do When Your Shipment Is Lost

If your shipment has indeed gone missing, you’ll need to follow these steps.

  • Contact your carrier straight away to report it.
  • Check the tracking service on your carrier’s website to find out its last known location.
  • Share any significant features of the shipment, such as its size, any logos present on the packaging, and so on.

If your goods aren’t found, it’s time to start the claims process with your cargo insurance provider. 

What To Do When Part Of Your Shipment Is Missing 

If your shipment arrives as it should, but some of the goods are missing, here’s what you need to do:

  • Check through the Bill of Lading (or BoL) and compare what was delivered to what was shipped.
  • Note the details of any shortages on both copies – the carrier’s and the consignee’s – of the delivery receipt before you sign.
  • Take pictures if you feel it would help your case. 
  • Pay any shipping charges as normal and keep all of your documentation.
  • See if the consignor will issue a replacement, and if not, 
  • Contact your insurer to file a freight loss claim for the missing goods. 

What To Do When Your Shipment Is Damaged

Sometimes, your cargo might arrive damaged. If that happens, you must document everything with photos. 

If issues with damaged cargo arise, don’t sign the BoL, but don’t refuse it. If you refuse the Bill of Lading, it gets sent back to the point of origin with the carrier and the chain of proof is broken. 

Make sure to pay any shipping charges even if you feel it’s unfair. Otherwise, the claim process can become delayed and keep all related documentation. 

Before you start the claim process, speak with your carrier in case they can offer a replacement. If the answer is no, contact your cargo insurance provider to file a claim for the damaged goods. 

Types of Freight Claims

If your air, road or sea freight shipment is damaged, lost or delayed, you might be compensated for your losses. Filing a freight claim with the carrier you used can be complicated, time-consuming and overwhelming, but it can mean you don’t lose out.

Let’s run through the types of freight claims.


Damage claims are filed when something happens to your goods during delivery, and they become physically damaged or contaminated, for example.


Loss claims are less common and are only filed when a whole shipment is lost. Before filing a loss claim, you should get in touch with your carrier so that they can investigate. And you can only file a loss claim when your shipment has been lost for a certain amount of time past its delivery date. 


If your shipment arrives but is missing some of the goods, you might need to file a shortage claim. If the product count upon arrival doesn’t match the total noted on the order, you need to document the deficiency on the carrier’s receipt and then start claims proceedings with your cargo insurer.


Concealed damage claims occur when there is damage to a shipment that isn’t immediately apparent. 

How To Avoid Lost Or Damaged Goods

From sea freight to travel by train or lorry, there are processes and proceedings you can undertake to avoid the loss or damage of your goods.

Proper Packing

Improper packing is one of the top reasons for damaged goods. If items aren’t correctly packed to ensure they don’t bump into each other during their journey, there can be detrimental results.

Correct Labelling

Mislabelling your cargo means it might not get handled as it should be. Imagine forgetting to inscribe ‘FRAGILE’ on a box of delicate glassware!  

Carrier Choice

Select a professional carrier company that uses a robust tracking system to give you complete peace of mind that your cargo is in safe hands. 

And Don’t Forget Cargo Insurance!

True. Taking up cargo insurance won’t avoid loss or damage to your air, road or sea freight. But having a comprehensive insurance policy means you can avoid additional stress if something does happen to your goods in transit.  

Sometimes Things Go Wrong – Be Prepared

Globally, there is a huge volume of cargo on the move at any one time. Most shipments arrive unscathed, but it’s not surprising that some go astray or suffer damage. 

Knowing what to do if your air, land or sea freight is lost or damaged will make the experience less stressful and easier to manage. 

Worried about your sea freight shipments? Wondering how you can best prevent something from going wrong? Contact Millennium today for expert advice.