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When Will My Cargo Be Delivered? A Guide for Domestic & International Shipments

Sea Freight,  Uncategorized

When Will My Cargo Be Delivered? A Guide for Domestic & International Shipments

For businesses whose operations rely on shipping, timely delivery of cargo is crucial, especially when working with a reliable sea freight forwarder. The shipment of goods is a complex process that involves various parties and factors that can affect the timeline in which your cargo is delivered. The international nature of shipping only adds to the complexity, making it difficult for businesses to plan their operations effectively.

In this comprehensive guide, we will take you through the process of cargo delivery for domestic and international shipments and help you understand the factors that affect the delivery timeline.

For a general background, we recommend reading our article on how the shipping process works. This article will focus primarily on your cargo’s process through the port, from the moment the cargo arrives to when the businesses must arrange for the cargo to be delivered.

The Offloading and Delivery Process Broken Down

After a ship docks at a port, it is secured and the unloading process begins. It starts with the ship’s crew notifying the terminal operator of the containers that need to be offloaded.

Once the location has been assigned, a crane operator will move the crane to the container’s location, and the container is lifted off the ship. The crane operator then moves the container to the designated location on the dock, which may be a port bay or a warehouse. This process is repeated until all the containers have been offloaded.

cargo containers being unloaded from a vessel

How containers are offloaded from ships

Cargo unloading is done using specialised cranes that lift the containers off the ship and onto the dock. These cranes (often referred to as container cranes) are typically located on the dock or quay, and they are operated by trained personnel who are responsible for moving the containers from the ship to the port.

The crane operator will use equipment such as a container spreader beam to pick up the container and lift it off the ship. This is a metal structure that attaches to the four corners of the container and spreads the weight evenly, allowing the crane to lift the container safely.

Once the container is lifted off the ship, the crane operator will then move it to a waiting truck or trailer. This is typically done using a system of rails or tracks on the quay that allows the crane to move the container horizontally.

While this may sound like a relatively simple procedure, the offloading process can take time, especially if the port is congested or if the ship is carrying a large number of containers. This can delay the ultimate delivery of cargo from the port to your warehouse, even if the ship has arrived on time.

Understanding the difference between ETA and delivery date

It is essential to understand the difference between the Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) and Delivery Date, which are both important terms used in the industry.

The ETA is the date when the ship is expected to arrive at the port. However, this does not mean that your goods will be immediately available for pickup.

The Delivery Date is the date when your goods will actually become available and delivered to you. This date can vary depending on the deconsolidation process and any delays that might occur (explained further below).

Requesting a fast unpack

Businesses that need their cargo urgently can request a fast unpack, which means that their container will be given priority during the unpacking process. This is available for LCL only. This also does not always guarantee a fast unpack as your container might still be the last one taken off the ship, depending on its location in the container stack.

Fast unpacks can be useful in situations where time is of the essence, such as when shipping perishable goods or urgent medical supplies. To obtain this service, a business first typically needs to work with a shipping carrier or logistics provider that offers this option. The availability of fast unpack services may vary depending on the carrier or provider.

Businesses may need to provide specific instructions or requirements to ensure that their shipment is unpacked efficiently and that the goods are properly handled during the process. Fast unpacks will also see additional fees applied from around $175+. So, it’s important to confirm any pricing or fees with the carrier or logistics provider before arranging for this type of service.

cargo being unpacked

FCL vs LCL: How long does each shipment take to unpack?

LCL and FCL are terms used in the shipping industry to describe two different types of container shipping.

LCL stands for Less-than-Container Load, which means that a shipment doesn’t fill an entire shipping container. Instead, the goods are consolidated with other LCL shipments in a container, and the shipper is charged based on the amount of space their shipment occupies in the container. This can be a cost-effective option for smaller shipments or for businesses that don’t have enough goods to fill an entire container.

Because LCL goods involve shipments mixed with one another, it normally takes 3-6 days for the goods to be unpacked and available.

FCL stands for Full Container Load, which means that the shipper has enough goods to fill an entire container. In this case, the shipper normally pays a flat rate for the use of the container, regardless of how much space is actually used. FCL is often used by businesses that need to ship a large volume of goods, or by businesses that need to ensure that their goods are not mixed with other shipments.

As FCL shipments are not combined with other shippers’ goods, it takes around 1-2 days for it to be unpacked and available.

Ocean vs air freight: How long until my cargo is available?

For fairly obvious reasons, air freight is generally faster than ocean freight. Aircraft can travel much faster than ships, and air freight shipments can be delivered in a matter of days, whereas ocean freight shipments can take weeks or even months to arrive at their destination.

For air freight forwarders, goods are typically available within one day of arrival.

This is much faster than sea freight, where the time it takes for goods to be offloaded and available can vary depending on factors such as the size of the shipment, the destination and the availability of customs clearance. As explained earlier in this article, it can take several days to a few weeks for LCL and FCL shipments to be offloaded and available for pick-up or delivery.

Why delays occur when offloading goods

Several factors can cause delays in the delivery of cargo. Some of the most common reasons are explained in detail below.


One of the most common reasons for delays in cargo delivery is the cargo suffering damage.

During the offloading process, it is an unfortunate reality that containers can be damaged due to mishandling or accidents. This can result in delays as the damaged containers need to be repaired or replaced before the cargo can be delivered.

As well as obvious external damage (that you can see from the packaging), there is also concealed freight damage (i.e. where the cargo is damaged inside the packaging, and you don’t know about it until you open your container). You can also potentially be made to pay further costs if there is damage to the container.

It is therefore essential to inspect your cargo for damages before accepting the delivery to ensure that you receive your goods in good condition.

Customs screening

Customs is another reason why delays can occur in cargo delivery. Customs authorities such as the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry are responsible for screening cargo to ensure that it complies with all import regulations and requirements.

This process can be time-consuming, especially if the cargo is flagged for inspection. Customs screening can also cause delays if the import documentation is incomplete or incorrect, as this can result in additional scrutiny by customs officials.

We recommend that businesses seek the guidance of customs clearance agents to ensure that their cargo remains compliant with Australia’s robust border control laws.

cargo being inspected by customs


Fumigation is a process used to treat cargo to eliminate pests and other organisms that may be present. This is particularly important for goods that are imported from countries with strict quarantine regulations. Cargo that is selected for fumigation may experience delays in delivery as the process can take several days to complete.

One of the most notorious pests subject to Australia’s strict biosecurity regulations is the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB). The bug is well-known to ‘hitchhike’ on cargo as it travels, threatening considerable damage to local crops should it enter Australia. If the BMSB is found on your cargo, the vessel on which your cargo arrives may be refused entry into the country.

cargo being fumigated


Demurrage is a charge that is incurred when a container is not moved out of the terminal for unpacking within a certain amount of ‘free days’ offered by the shipping carrier. The charge is levied by the shipping line to the importer.

To avoid demurrage charges, it is essential to ensure that your cargo is ready for collection as soon as possible after the unloading and deconsolidation process is complete.

You can read more about demurrage (not to be confused with detention) in our article on the hidden costs of shipping.

Using a freight forwarder to ensure smooth cargo delivery

The complexity of the shipping process and the potential for delays can make it challenging for businesses to manage their cargo delivery effectively. To ensure smooth cargo delivery, businesses can use a freight forwarder.

A freight forwarder is a company that specialises in managing the shipping process on behalf of businesses. They can provide services such as cargo tracking, customs clearance, and delivery to the final destination.

Freight forwarders have a deep understanding of the shipping process and can help businesses navigate the complexities of domestic and international shipping. They can also provide valuable advice on the most efficient and cost-effective shipping methods for your cargo. Using a freight forwarder can help businesses save time and money while ensuring that their cargo is delivered on time and in good condition.

Here at International Cargo Express, we offer hassle-free services for businesses that require timely and secure delivery of their goods. With over 300 partner offices around the world, we have extensive experience in handling shipments of all sizes and complexities, to and from virtually any location. Our team of experts will handle all the necessary logistics, including customs clearance, documentation, and transportation required to ensure the smooth delivery of your cargo. Reach out to us today to discuss your next shipment!

or call us on 1300 227 461

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