Finding out cargo on a given vessel

Is there a way to find out what type and quantity of cargo a given vessel is carrying?

Several parties typically have accurate information about what cargo is loaded on a vessel:

  1. Ship’s Master/Captain: The ship’s captain is responsible for all operations on the ship, including loading and unloading of cargo. They will have access to the ship’s loading plan and will know what cargo is onboard.
  2. Ship’s Operator: The shipping company operating the vessel will have this information. They manage the operations of the ship, including determining what cargo it carries.
  3. Charterer: If the ship is chartered, the charterer—who rents the ship for a specific voyage or period—will also have this information. They are often the ones who provide the cargo to be transported.
  4. Shipping Agent: The agent who arranges the ship’s port calls will have details of the cargo for customs and port authority purposes.
  5. Freight Forwarder: If a freight forwarder is involved in the logistics, they will also know the details of the cargo.
  6. Bill of Lading Holder: The Bill of Lading is a legal document issued by a carrier to a shipper, which details the type, quantity, and destination of the goods being carried. The holder of this document will have information about the cargo.
  7. Customs Authorities: Authorities in both the exporting and importing countries will have access to detailed cargo information for regulatory, security, and taxation purposes.

These of course are direct sources of information (whether or not you can obtain that information from them is a different story). Of course another way would be to do calculations based on certain vessel and cargo parameters.

@aydin-mammadov, you’ve made excellent points about the different parties that might have information about a ship’s cargo. However, the original question seems to ask if there is a way for a third party - someone not directly involved in the voyage - to determine what cargo a vessel is carrying.

Unfortunately, for reasons of commercial confidentiality and security, this information is not typically publicly available. Most maritime law respects the privacy and security of the cargo carried by ships, so unless the ship’s master, operator, charterer, shipping agent, freight forwarder, or customs authorities choose to disclose this information, it is likely to remain confidential.

However, one can often infer a general idea of a ship’s cargo based on its type, size, and route.

For instance, oil tankers obviously carry oil, container ships carry containerized goods, bulk carriers transport bulk commodities like grains or coal, and so forth. A ship’s port of call might also provide hints: for example, a ship leaving Saudi Arabia might be carrying oil, while one departing from Brazil might be loaded with iron ore or soybeans. But, these are just educated guesses, and the exact type and quantity of the cargo would still be unknown without the direct sources of information outlined above.

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