How can I track a container ship that's in transit?

A friend of mine recently sent a container full of stuff from China to Latin America. She was told that it would take 30 to 45 days.

It’s been 40 days now and I’d like to get an idea when the shipment will actually arrive. Apart from going back to the shipper and asking them again, is there any way to check online for containers and ships?

I am hoping there would be something like Fedex and DHL’s services, where we only have to punch in our bil of lading or whatever number there may be that would identify the container of the boat it is on.

This is the closest I could find for now:

Doubt there is such a thing unless the company your friend used to ship her goods with provides such a service. I would just ask the shipping company though, they should know or at least be able to find out.

Independent freight forwarders are not usually set up like DHL and UPS. You will need to contact shipper directly as Rascal suggested. Or if your inclined fine out what boat it was on and contact the shipyard to see if the ship has docked.

Most time consuming process is probably clearing customs. If there a delay its usually stuck in customs. But your freight forwarder agent on the latin america side should be taking care of that.

And hopefully everything is insured incase they drop the container into the harbor by accident.

Yellow Freight (US company) places a GPS unit on each container and they can tell you exactly where the container is at any time. They have an affiliate in Taiwan that provides the same service, but I don’t have their contact information handy. I can find it if you want that kind of service next time.

Whatever freight forwarder you are using should at least be able to tell you the ship, date sailed, ETA destination port, and estimated customs clearance date. They can also tell you if the ship has arrived and whether the container has been off loaded.

Anyway, no need to start worrying after only 40 days. Ocean deliveries almost always take a little longer than they tell you when they are trying to get your business.

The ship can almost certainly be tracked on line. If you know the shipping company then you should be able to track the vessel using the vessel name or the bill of lading.

As for shipping times, it has been common practice for freight forwarders to lie about arrival times. The first time I shipped a container from Thailand to Vancouver I was told it would take 21 days. It eventually took 31 because I was told it broke down and pulled into Korea for repairs. This of course was crap it was a scheduled stop and the freight forwarder was taking advantage of my naivety.

I have a container hitting the water on Sept 15th (BKK to YVR) and I can track it at I can see every port it stops at and whether it was late.

True, apart from the bit about customs clearance which can take anything from 3 days to a month. If this is your friends first container I would imagine it will take at least 2 weeks to get it out of customs after its arrived. Customs are a law unto themselves.

For my last two containers it has taken as long to get them out of Canada customs as it did to sail from Bangkok to Vancouver.