Sea Container Hygiene System (SCHS) case study

Who developed the SCHS?How does the SCHS work?What are the benefits to the exporter?What are the benefits to the exporting country? : What are the benefits to the importing country? : How much does it cost an exporting port to run the SCHS? : How can the SCHS help countries that don’t export empty containers?Which countries take part in the SCHS? :What are the technical details for hygiene requirements?How can I find out more?

The Sea Container Hygiene System (SCHS) is a system to ensure empty containers imported into a country are free from pests. The main pest targets are key invasive species in the Pacific: ants and snails (Giant African Snails). Although the target is empty containers, the principles of the SCHS can be applied as more general measures to improve biosecurity.

The SCHS is a government-to-industry agreement initially developed to manage biosecurity risks associated with sea containers arriving in New Zealand and Australia from countries in the Pacific. All countries who take part have an obligation to follow the rules of the system.

Who developed the SCHS and why?

The New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) developed the SCHS. The Australian Department of Agriculture (DAF) joined the initiative in 2011. Before the SCHS, invasive ants were regularly detected on arrival in New Zealand on or in sea containers or goods from Pacific Islands. As a result many post-border responses were required as the ants spread and established nests nearby.

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How does the SCHS work?

Shipping companies who export containers use a third party service provider approved by MPI/DAF to establish a hygiene system at the port of export. This includes providing standard operating procedures for training, cleaning, pest management and container storage as well as regular checks (audits). After the SCHS is set up at the port of export, all containers leaving must be cleaned using these procedures.

Initial shipments are thoroughly inspected on arrival to check they are clean. Once it is clear that the port of export is following the rules of the system, the level of checking is reduced and may drop to as low as five per cent of the consignment. MPI and DAF conduct a six monthly or yearly audit depending on the history of compliance, that is, the percentage of containers that are found to be clean when checked.

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What are the benefits to the exporter?

MPI / DAF expect that if the SCHS is fully implemented the number of container inspections decrease. This delivers direct cost savings to the exporter. The resulting faster movement of containers at the wharves means faster time to market for all imports.

Shipping lines face additional on arrival container washing or fumigation costs for containers that could have been dealt with effectively offshore. Under the SCHS, and with appropriate compliance, it is possible to achieve clearance of 95% of the total consignment without any MPI / DAF intervention, resulting in significant savings to the shipping company.

What are the benefits to the exporting country?

The economic benefits to the exporter of using the SCHS also benefit the exporting country. Reducing the cost of exporting containers increases the revenue those exports provide.

Increasing co-operation among countries will have regional-wide positive outcomes for biosecurity.

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What are the benefits to the importing country?

Dirty empty containers in the Pacific are a major source of invasive pests such as ants and snails. Keeping these pests out of a country is much more cost effective than trying to get rid of them after they have arrived.

Containers imported under the SCHS should not require any additional cleaning or treatment upon arrival. As the confidence in the pre-export cleaning process increases, on-arrival inspections are reduced, saving the importing country cost and effort in the long term. This in turn means cost savings to the importers.

The SCHS demonstrates a successful and cost-effective control strategy. It is recommended that similar methods be rolled out throughout the Pacific Islands on a risk-priority basis, and consideration be given to a wider rollout of similar principles where pathway specific biosecurity risk is deemed manageable with this methodology.

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How much does it cost an exporting port to run the SCHS?

Costs of setting up the system vary from place to place. Cleaning a container and keeping it clean can be difficult in locations where infrastructure is lacking. Initially, upon the decision to proceed implementation of a SCHS, industry will experience a period of high setup and establishment costs. This can continue, commonly for 6-12 months, until the system functions are bedded in by offshore stakeholders.

How can the SCHS help countries that don’t export empty containers?

The SCHS can be used for fully loaded containers and ensuring such consignments are managed appropriately at quarantine facilities after being checked on arrival at the border. The containers are cleaned inside and out, sprayed externally and loaded with compliant clean and uncontaminated / treated produce for export.  The containers are managed in a designated storage area with a chemical control programme before being shipped to their destination.

The key processes of the SCHS can be implemented by biosecurity and quarantine agencies in any PICT to help limit the introduction and spread of invasive species. The key SCHS processes that can be adopted by any country are:

  • Effective cleaning of all sea container surfaces.
  • Effective pest population suppression in operational areas of interest (i.e. keeping these areas free of rubbish, soil and weeds and use of barrier pesticides).
  • Storage of clean containers that minimises re-contamination likelihood (i.e. in clean areas).

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Which countries take part in the SCHS?

More countries are joining the SCHS as they see the benefits to their exporters. Current participants include most ports in New Zealand and Australia, ports in Papua New Guinea (Port Moresby and Lae), the Solomon Islands (Honiara), Samoa (Apia) and Tonga (Nuku'alofa). Fiji joined in late 2016.

What are the technical details for hygiene requirements?

The SCHS components are described in the flowchart on the left  (redrawn from MPI / DAF materials).

Click on the flowchart to open a larger version in a new window.

The key components prior to export are highlighted in green. These components are underpinned by training and internal audits.

The on arrival components are the practices undertaken by MPI and DAF. 

The container decontamination and storage areas should be a bare concrete area free of soil, weeds, rubbish and debris. On a monthly cycle these areas should be treated as follows:

  • Week 1: treat with a granular pesticide targeted to ants (e.g. Brigade® granules, Maxforce®Ant bait, Exterm-An-Ant bait). Prior to treatment with granular pesticide, removal of weeds, removal of nesting habitat for snails and ants (rubbish, soil, gravel, sand, weeds etc.). Any tar or other such substances should be scraped off surfaces. A targeted slug and snail bait should also be applied (e.g. Mesurol snail and slug bait)
  • Week 2: Check for activity of pests
  • Week 3: treat bare concrete areas with a residual barrier spray (e.g. Biflex® Ultra-Lo-Odour spray 30 day knockdown). In the container storage area, the seals on the container should also be treated. Two applications are required, with the second applied once the first coat is partly dry.
  • Week 4: Check for activity of pests. Removal of weeds, removal of nesting habitat for snails and ants (rubbish, soil, gravel, sand, weeds etc.). Any tar or other such substances should be scraped off surfaces

Safety measures should meet applicable local standards for pesticide storage, handling and use, and should include at the very least:

  • Chemicals stored in a secure cool, dry place out of direct sunlight
  • Overalls, boots, face masks with canister, nitrile gloves must be used
  • Secondary containment is required for liquids
  • Hazchem sign
  • No smoking sign
  • Avoiding spray drift

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How can I find out more?

If your country or organisation wants to join the SCHS, contact New Zealand MPI or Australian DAF.

Information for this case study came from:

Further information was provided by Dave Nendick PhD, Specialist Biosecurity Adviser MPI,

 content reviewed by Dave Nendick, New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries, May 2017

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