In the 1960s, there was a rapid increase in the use of freight containers for the consignment of goods by sea and the development of specialized container ships. In 1967, IMO undertook to study the safety of containerization in marine transport. The container itself emerged as the most important aspect to be considered.
IMO, in co‑operation with the Economic Commission for Europe, developed a draft convention and in 1972 the finalized Convention was adopted at a conference jointly convened by the United Nations and IMO.
The 1972 Convention for Safe Containers has two goals.
One is to maintain a high level of safety of human life in the transport and handling of containers by providing generally acceptable test procedures and related strength requirements.
The other is to facilitate the international transport of containers by providing uniform international safety regulations, equally applicable to all modes of surface transport. In this way, proliferation of divergent national safety regulations can be avoided.
The requirements of the Convention apply to the great majority of freight containers used internationally, except those designed specially for carriage by air. As it was not intended that all containers or reusable packing boxes should be affected, the scope of the Convention is limited to containers of a prescribed minimum size having corner fittings ‑ devices which permit handling, securing or stacking.
The Convention includes two Annexes:
Annex I includes Regulations for the testing, inspection, approval and maintenance of containers
Annex II covers structural safety requirements and tests, including details of test procedures.
Annex I sets out procedures whereby containers used in international transport must be safety‑approved by an Administration of a Contracting State or by an organization acting on its behalf.
The Administration or its authorized representative will authorize the manufacturer to affix to approved containers a safety approval plate containing the relevant technical data.
The approval, evidenced by the safety approval plate granted by one Contracting State, should be recognized by other Contracting States. This principle of reciprocal acceptance of safety‑approved containers is the cornerstone of the Convention; and once approved and plated it is expected that containers will move in international transport with the minimum of safety control formalities.
The subsequent maintenance of a safety‑approved container is the responsibility of the owner, who is required to have the container periodically examined.
The Convention specifically requires that the container be subjected to various tests which represent a combination of safety requirements of both the inland and maritime modes of transport.
Flexibility is incorporated in the Convention by the provision of a simplified amendment procedures (tacit amendment procedure) which makes it possible to speedily adapt the test procedures to the requirements of international container traffic.