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Category Archives: Freight Forwarder Experience

Rail Terminal at the Port of Felixstowe

Rail activity at the Port of Felixstowe in the UK is the biggest and busiest in the country.  Operating over 60 rail journeys in and out of the port per day, the service takes 17,000 TEU (20’ containers or equivalent) off of the UK’s roads, reducing carbon emissions and congestion.

Railing containers out of the port and to destinations such as Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester reduces costs for the customer and offers a service which can avoid the busy roads surrounding London.

Mercator opts to make use of the Port of Felixstowe’s rail services for containers delivering to the north of the country, particularly if we have several loads to deliver to one place.  Once the containers have been railed to the rail terminal near the destination, they are transferred onto a truck to make the final journey via road.

Recently the Port of Felixstowe’s rail service has become overrun, and as such there are delays and restricted departures/arrivals.  It is hoped that this is simply a glitch whereby the port has a backlog of containers, both empty and full.  This has a knock-on effect to space at the depots, reducing the number of empty containers that the port can accept.

This restriction has affected all three rail providers at the Port of Felixstowe.  Mercator is working closely with the shipping lines and rail providers to keep in the picture of service status at the port in order to minimise the disruption to our own customers who are expecting deliveries from the Port of Felixstowe.

If you import into the UK and are looking for a freight forwarder to handle everything for you, give us a call for a quote +44 2392 756 575 or email


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Common Mistakes Made in International Shipping and how to avoid them

Choosing the Cheapest Quote

We all know that cheapest isn’t always best.  In some instances there is no difference between a costly and a cheaper option.  However, in international shipping, there can be a vast difference.  The best way to ensure you are making an informed decision is by checking that you are comparing like for like.  For example, if you are importing three pallets from the USA, and require a door to door shipping service, you may get one quote from an agent of X, and a quote from another agent for Y.  But the quote for X (which looks much cheaper and more attractive) doesn’t actually cover the whole service, it just covers the ocean freight.  Because X is much cheaper you go for that option, believing this is all you need to pay, believing that all elements are covered.  But what about the US pick up, export clearance, UK customs clearance and the delivery to your door?  Not only is this now suddenly much more expensive than you were originally promised, now you’re annoyed that the freight forwarder wasn’t upfront with you in the first place.  Can this freight forwarder that misquoted even offer you those extra options on your shipping?  If they can’t who do you ask to arrange that for you?  It becomes confusing, complicated and unnecessarily stressful.

The bottom line is, if a ‘comparative’ quote sounds much cheaper, then it probably isn’t comparative.  Make sure you check exactly what this covers.  The seemingly cheaper option might not actually be cheaper when it comes to the crunch.  At Mercator, we make sure we know exactly what you need us to arrange for you and quote based on that.  We never hide fees or present you with invoices you were not expecting.  We have been in business for 25 years and our first customer is still our customer today.

Not Doing your Research

As a UK retailer, you are in the market to import ceramic tiles into the UK.  You find a supplier in China, the price is good and you like the product.  But did you know there is a high ‘anti-dumping duty’ on ceramic tiles from China?  Perhaps if you knew that, the tiles that you were considering importing from another country would have been in the same league.

The best thing to do is find what you want to import or export, do a bit of reading up online, can you find any specific measures which may make what you want to do difficult or expensive?  Discussing this with a freight forwarder could answer the questions that you have.  Do not purchase or agree to purchase anything until you know it is possible to ship what you want to ship and have investigated your costs of shipping.

Whether you are looking to import or export goods from the UK, Mercator can assist you with quotations, regulations, VAT & Duty tariffs, and even restrictions overseas.  We have a freight forwarding partner agent in over 95 countries worldwide thanks to our founding membership of the global network MarcoPoloLine.  If you have a query about an export to a certain country, we can call upon specialist knowledge from our freight forwarding partner located there, making the process straight forward and hassle free for you.

Not knowing your Costs

If you are in discussion about selling some goods to a customer in Australia (for example) you may need to let them know how much the shipping cost will be so that they can decide whether they complete the purchase.  Unless you have shipped a similar sized shipment to Australia before, it is not worth estimating the cost.  Make sure you get a solid quote from a freight forwarder (like Mercator).  The last thing you want to do is estimate it will cost X, ask your customer to pay you X, and then when you go to ship it, it costs Y and you are now out of pocket.  A reputable freight forwarder will be able and willing to get you costings for export and import shipments based on a prospective sale or purchase.

If you use Mercator to arrange your shipping, we will make sure that you know what you need to pay and when, so there are no nasty surprises.

Mercator is a reputable freight forwarder based in the UK.  We have over 20 years’ experience in international shipping and trade.  Our service is more than just arranging the shipping for you, we offer helpful advice and information so that you can make informed choices when it comes to international shipping.  If you’d like to discuss your shipping tasks with one of our team, then feel free to call us +44 2392 756 575 or email

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Exporting to Chile – A Freight Forwarder Case Study

Mercator was recently asked to arrange the export shipment of a handmade wooden dinghy.  The boat was hand crafted by a company in Plymouth, and they approached Mercator looking for a freight forwarder to take care of the export shipping to Chile for them.  The Plymouth based company create hand built traditional wooden boats in the oldest covered slipway in the world.

Nina 7 (002)

As the cargo was not a sufficient size (10’ in length) in order to warrant a dedicated shipping container for the sea freight shipping, Mercator arranged for the dinghy to be loaded into a shared shipping container.  This is sometimes known as groupage, or LCL (less than container load), where several shipments share one shipping container and split the cost according to the volume taken up by each consignment.

Nina Box (2) (002)

The manufacturer arranged to build a crate for the dingy to be transported in.  They ensured that the crate was a snug fit so that the dinghy would not move inside the box and therefore minimising the risk of damage.  They added extra packaging in order to protect the parts of the boat that would otherwise be in direct contact with the crate.

Mercator arranged for a curtain sider to pick up the dinghy once it was packed and ready for shipping.  The onsite forklift truck loaded the crate onto the haulier’s truck in order for it to be transported to London Gateway Port and then loaded into the container nearby the quay.

The sea freight route from the UK to Valparaiso port in Chile is usually through the Panama Canal and then South down the West Coast of South America.  Valparaiso port is located just outside of Santiago, the Capital of Chile, about a third of the way down the coast of the country.  The other major container terminal port in Chile is Concepcion, approximately 300 miles further south.

Mercator has a partner agent based in Chile, in Santiago.  We have worked alongside them for over 6 years now.  They are also a member of the global freight forwarder network MarcoPoloLine (MPL).  As a member they are required to meet certain standards, have good conduct and be an independent freight forwarder.  Membership to MPL ensures that customers can trust that their cargo is in safe hands no matter where it is.

Our freight forwarder agent in Chile can assist with shipping to Chile once the cargo has arrived, including local customs clearance and even onwards delivery to the destination.  The connection with Chile also allows Mercator to have expert local knowledge directly from Chile with regards to shipping, clearance and documentation.

Nina Box (7) (002)

If you have an export shipment for Chile make sure that you choose a well-established and reputable freight forwarder who has direct connections locally in Chile.  If you would like to discuss an export shipment to Chile (or any part of South America) or you would like a quotation, then get in touch: +44 2392 756 575 or email


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Importing from China into the UK – A Freight Forwarding Case Study

We were recently approached by a UK based company, Nim’s Fruit Crisps, to assist with the import shipping of some machinery that they were purchasing from China.

Nim’s had purchased the goods from the Chinese manufacturer on an FOB (free on board) basis.  FOB is one of many international trade terms (INCOTERMS) which sets out who is responsible for different parts of the international shipment.  It is generally recommended to agree to purchase your goods FOB when they are coming from China.  FOB means that the supplier of the goods (the exporter) will arrange for your shipment to be delivered either to the port or warehouse in China.  From there, you are free to arrange for any UK based freight forwarder to take control of the shipment and arrange for the freight to the UK, UK customs clearance and delivery to your door.

FOB is best used when importing from China because it gives the UK agent ultimate control of the UK costs once the shipment arrives in the UK.  We have found that sometimes if the exporter (the company/person you are purchasing the goods from in China) arranges the ocean freight for you, the cost may seem competitive compared to what the UK freight forwarder is offering.  However, we have seen many importers stung financially, as once the shipment arrives in the UK there are extremely high charges to be paid upon import which cannot be avoided.  It works whereby the exporter has arranged for a UK agent to accept the shipment once it arrives, for which the exporter expects a remuneration in kind for giving the shipment to that particular agent.  The collection of this remuneration in kind unfortunately is built into those high charges you did not expect to be billed for.  It’s essentially a ‘back hander’.

nims import from china

Fortunately Nim’s agreed an FOB term, and so they contacted us to handle the ocean freight, UK clearance and delivery for them.  Our agent in China assisted to liaise with the Chinese exporter to arrange the drop off of the machinery to the origin port: Huanghua.  Huanghua port is just outside Beijing and Tianjin, in the north-east of China.  We were then able to arrange the sea freight from China to Felixstowe port in the UK.

As the cargo was not enough to fill a full shipping container, we arranged for the crated machinery to be loaded and shipped in a shared container.  Opting to ship goods as an LCL (less than container load) shipment brings the cost of the freight down.  Sea freight from China takes around one month.

Once the shipment arrived in the UK, Mercator complied the documents, arranged to pay HMRC import VAT & Duty that was due on Nim’s behalf, and then arranged for a truck to deliver the machinery to their door.

It is always recommended that you speak with a freight forwarder before you commit to buying goods, just to make sure that the commodities you are hoping to purchase will not be costly or impossible to import into the UK, to get advice about which Incoterm you should negotiate and to find out how much importing the goods might cost you.  If you want to import goods from China, then get in touch to discuss or to get a quote: +44 2392 756 575 or email


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Important Changes to Freight Shipping Regulations

SOLAS Convention initiation (Safety Of Life At Sea) 1st of July 2016 – VGM (Verification of Gross Mass) Container Weight Implementation

With less than six months to go before the implementation of the SOLAS VGM (verified gross mass) regulations for accurate declaration of ALL shipping containers globally, the freight forwarding and shipping market is full of confusion and misunderstanding over the new procedures and how it will affect us all, including our customers.

The scheme, in a nutshell is designed to avoid any injury or damage caused by mis-declaration of container weight for all global container movements, in theory a good idea, but in practice the industry, including ocean carriers and freight forwarders alike, are having problems implementing effective solutions to make it viable.

At Mercator Cargo we have been aware of the upcoming changes for some time, and have been working with carriers and professional associations to be ready for the start date.

The scheme offers two choices for declaring the correct container weight:

  • Packed/Loaded containers to be weighed using calibrated and certified equipment (such as weighbridges)
  • Weighing all packages, cargo, dunnage and packing materials, again using certified equipment and adding to the container tare (weight) of the unladen container.

Both of these options have obvious flaws.

The lack of public or indeed any weighbridges in the UK is a huge problem, and finding one is also an issue, it would be most useful if a list of them was published, and made easily accessible to use for option 1.

Calibrated equipment is the flaw in option 2 – how can any agent, freight forwarder or carrier be sure that the equipment is calibrated and certified and is correct.

At the time of writing I must say I have huge reservations about this, and I am not alone.  Of the carriers I have spoken with, most of them have no idea how they are going to comply with these terms, and it seems unlikely to change in the near future.

And the UK is fortunate that most export containers that are loaded are certainly within ballpark figures of being correct in terms of weight.  However other countries such as India and China, who are two of the biggest global players, are notorious for mis-declaration of weight, we ourselves had one shipping container of stone imported from India declared as 25,000kgs but was in-fact over 35,000kgs!

How will countries with even worse infrastructure than us in the UK cope with these regulations? It remains to be seen, and I am sure this will not be the final blog I write on the subject!

The FAQ’s about the change can be viewed here: VGM FAQ

If you have any questions please email or call +44 2392 756 575


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What you need to know about Importing from China – Advice from a Freight Forwarder

Thinking of importing goods from China?  Make sure you read this before you commit to anything.

It is becoming more of an issue that when goods are purchased in China and the freight is prepaid by origin, the importer will receive a bill for extra (but unfortunately payable) charges.

When you buy goods from China (or from any country in the world for that matter) you will agree with the seller a ‘buying term’.  The ‘buying term’ used will be from a list of Incoterms – which are internationally recognised terms, set out by the international chamber of commerce.  An Incoterm will outline who is liable for paying for what in order to transport the goods to its destination.  Commonly you’ll come across FOB (free on board – where the seller is liable for the costs to get the goods onto a vessel, the buyer is then responsible for the ocean freight and any costs from then onwards); CFR (cost and freight – the seller is responsible for loading the goods onto the vessel and for the ocean freight, the buyer is liable for the unloading of the goods and all costs from then onwards); CIF (cost insurance freight – same as CFR but the seller also arranges the marine insurance).  There is a whole book on Incoterms, so if you are not sure then make sure you do your homework or ask a reputable freight forwarder for some help.

Why is it important to make sure you have the correct Incoterm when it comes to importing from China?  Unfortunately we have seen the same issue come up time and time again where someone has agreed the purchase of some goods from China on either a CFR or CIF basis (or others where the seller arranges the freight).  When the goods arrive in the UK, the buyer gets a large bill from a UK based agent (who has been nominated by the seller).  You are under no obligation to clear the goods with that nominated agent, however, you are liable to pay for the charges that they have billed to you.  It works on a kind of ‘back hander’ basis.  Your seller in China has contacted the UK agent, agreed they can accept the shipment when it arrives in the UK, and for that the Chinese seller will expect a remuneration in kind, which you’ve been billed for.  It can be hundreds of pounds – so it is so important to avoid this situation.

How do you stop this happening?  Agree a term such as FOB with your seller.  They’ll arrange for your shipment to get on the vessel in China and you can appoint a UK agent to accept the goods in the UK (a freight forwarder such as Mercator Cargo).  When the shipment arrives there will be ocean freight, UK landing charges and customs clearance to pay.  No hefty fees on top, just the regular price to pay.  Be careful of the sellers who say they can arrange your freight for a very low price, as they will be making up for this via their nominated UK agent.  Don’t pay too much unnecessarily.

Having full control of the freight element of the goods will ensure you avoid these surprise charges.

Just yesterday, we had a new customer call us asking for help as this had unfortunately had happened to him.  He understood that we were unable to do anything about the charges from the other UK agent.  However, he did not want to use that particular agent for the clearance and delivery as he felt he could not trust them, so came to us.  We have arranged to clear and deliver his shipment for him, and also to help him for future shipments so that the same issue does not happen again.

We have partner agents in China, so if you do not wish for your seller to be involved in any of the transport of your order, we could arrange for the whole shipment from door in China to door in the UK – Simple!

Don’t get caught out, make sure you appoint a reputable freight forwarder who can offer you reliable and cost-effective advice.  Make the most of the professionals who are willing to help and go the extra mile for you.

Still need some help?  Get in touch, we’ll be happy to discuss this issue with you.  Or if you need to find a UK based freight forwarder who can handle the freight from China, give us a call with the details and we’ll get a quote together for you: +44 2392 756 575 or email


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UK’s Empty Shipping Container Exports

Export trade for the UK is gradually improving however the volumes that we import still out stretches the volumes of UK exports.

When more full containers arrive in the UK than leave, there is an issue of empty containers being left on the quay in the UK.  The carriers will then juggle around numbers, ordering empty containers to be loaded on to certain vessels in order to be transported to the country where they are required for loading.

Just a small snap shot of the situation can be seen on the Southampton Port website which shows current numbers of empty TEU (which are 20’ equivalents, so a 40’ container would be 2 TEU).  On 30th November 2015 (just as an example) there were 6608 TEU empty exports.

Have you ever seen stacks and stacks of shipping containers at ports around the UK?  These will be empty because it’s not possible to stack loaded shipping containers higher than three.

Confidence is growing in the UK export market: UK goods are in demand around the world; the UK is manufacturing some great products; and the Government is promoting UK exports with the slogan ‘Exporting is GREAT’, running workshops and talks, and Export Week.

Once the balance has evened out a bit between UK imports and UK exports, it should reduce the cost of ocean freight, as the inbound and outbound shipping container journeys will both be utilised with a cargo load.  Exporting more goods from the UK will also benefit the UK economy.

Are you interested in growing your business to include the export market?  Mercator is a well-established and reliable freight forwarder based in the UK.  For over 20 years we’ve been helping UK businesses get their heads around exporting, offering advice and full export shipping services to almost every country worldwide.  We are an independent freight forwarder, and we pride ourselves on our customer care – we can handhold you through the process of exporting your goods so you can concentrate on running your business, knowing that your export shipment is in good hands.

Get in touch to discuss current shipping rates and UK export protocols: or call us +44 2392 756 575, we’ll be happy to help you out.

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How many Pallets fit in a Shipping Container?

The answer to how many pallets fit in a container can be answered by first establishing what kind of pallets you have, and what size container they will be loaded into.

There are two standard pallet sizes known as europallets and standard pallets.  A europallet measures 1.2m x 0.8m, whereas a standard pallet is 1.2m x 1.0m.

A 20’ container is exactly that: it measures twenty foot long, and a 40’ container measures forty foot long.  Most containers will be a standard size – that is they will measure about 8 foot wide, and 8 foot 6 tall.  The only standard exception to this is a ‘high cube’ which is 9 foot 6 in height (great for tall cargo).


Europallets (1.2m x 0.8m)

11 europallets will fit into a standard 20’ container

You can get 25 europallets in a standard 40’ container


Standard pallets (1.2m x 1.0m)

You can fit 10 standard pallets in a standard 20’ container

21 standard pallets fit into a standard 40’ container


There are, however, all manner of other kind of pallets and other sizes of containers, for example palletwide (although these are usually quite rare).  Get in touch if you require further information of how many pallets fit into a container if they do not fit the standard specifications above.

If you have a shipment to arrange that is palletised, then get in touch, we can arrange for loading into a container, sea freight and clearance at destination.  Or if you have goods which you need palletising for shipment, we can also arrange for this for you.

To get in touch email our team on or give us a call +44 2392 756 575.


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Shipping an Airstream Caravan to New Zealand

Mercator was recently tasked with shipping this 1967 airstream caravan from the UK to New Zealand.  This particular consignment was requested because the caravan dealer in the UK had sold the vehicle to a customer in New Zealand.  We were approached by the dealer in this case, and dealt directly with their buyer in New Zealand to arrange the shipping.


Before the caravan was loaded onto the vessel for the sea freight journey to New Zealand, we arranged for an inspection of the caravan.  Our contact at Southampton port completed a full inspection of the caravan which included detailed photographs and illustrated drawings of the vehicle showing locations of any damage or marks that were noted.  We offer this for all our vehicle shipping consignments as it gives an audit trail of the condition of the vehicle so if there are any problems we know when they occurred.

The caravan was shipped via RORO – which is a roll-on roll-off service.  This is where the vehicle is rolled onto the vessel at origin port, and then rolled off at destination.  Most caravans are able to be containerised for transport, which is generally a cheaper option that RORO.  The risk of damage is minimised if containerised caravan shipping is selected as the vehicle does not move during transit (it’s strapped into the container and padding is added to protect corners.  On this occasion the airstream caravan was just a touch too big to fit into a container and that is why a RORO service was selected.

Sea freight from the UK to New Zealand takes around 45 days.  This vessel called at Auckland, where we asked our partner agent in New Zealand to deal with the clearance and landing of the caravan.  The customer in New Zealand was able to collect the vehicle from the port and take it home to begin their renovation works.

If you have a caravan (or motorhome, or any vehicle) that you need to arrange the shipping to New Zealand (or Australia) then get in touch with us to find out how we can help.  Our export team are well versed in shipping vehicles to New Zealand, including specific requirements and charges to clear the vehicle through customs (e.g. duty and GST), so any questions just ask! Email our team on or give us a call +44 2392 756 575.

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Car Shipping from the USA to the UK

Mercator has seen an influx of requests to arrange shipping of cars (particularly classic cars) from the USA to the UK.  We were recently asked to arrange the import shipping of this interesting 1972 Mazda RX2 from Florida.

The customer in the UK requested for us to arrange the pick-up of the car onsite in Florida and the delivery of the car to the port so that it could be loaded into a container for the international shipping leg of the journey.  The local collection was possible thanks to our connections with USA agents (who are also members of MarcoPoloLine – the worldwide freight forwarding network).

The car was then shipped via sea freight over to the UK where we arranged for the customs clearance and onward delivery to the customer.

With advances in container racking and due to attempts of freight forwarders to drive down the cost of shipping, some car shipping routes have specialist car racking systems available so that up to four cars fit into one shipping container.  With the invention of this system, car shipping could not be more cost-effective by container as the total cost of the container shipping is split between four cars.  This is an extremely new idea and currently is only available on a few routes, including Australasia and most recently South Africa.

Containerised car shipping is much safer than it might sound.  All vehicles that are loaded into the container are secured with various lashing and padding around the cars so that they do not move in transit – making it a really safe shipping option.  Our car shipping service even goes as far as arranging detailed inspection of the vehicle before and after it is shipped to ensure there is no damaged made during transit.

RORO (roll-on roll-off, where the vehicle is driven directly on and off the shipping vessel) is not always necessarily the cheapest car shipping option, especially with the abilities to load multiple cars into one shipping container.  However, if you have a car that you wish to arrange the international shipping of, then do get in touch and we can discuss the options, including containerisation, RORO (roll-on roll-off) and even air freight.

American classic cars are becoming very popular and there is an increasing demand on shipping these cars to the UK for car enthusiasts.  As such, Mercator has a seamless car shipping supply chain from across the USA right through to door in the UK.  If you appoint freight forwarder Mercator to arrange your shipping, you can be relaxed knowing that your car will arrive in the UK safely and on time.

If you have a car to ship to the UK from the USA then get in touch with us for a quote.  Our import car shipping team will be more than happy to help: +44 2392 756 575 or email

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