Published: April 1, 2017

There has been a recent case of a Member finding a significant number of cockroaches on board a modular container ship which required all the cargo to be discharged and the cargo and the ship had to be fumigated at significant cost and causing significant delay.

There are three types of cockroach commonly found as domestic pests;

German, Oriental and American.

Of the three the German cockroach is the type most commonly found on board ships.  This is due to a number of factors:

  • They are present on all continents and all major islands
  • They have a faster reproductive cycle than the others species
  • They produce a prodigious number of off-spring
  • They have adapted and developed immunity to a number of chemical pesticides.

The German cockroach is smaller than the other species and prefers to hide in confined spaces, which means they can be difficult to detect.   The German cockroach can be indentified by its small size, it grows up to 1.6 centimetres in length, and it is light tan in colour and has two easily identifiable stripes behind the head.


Frequent inspections and early identification of sites of infestation may eliminate breeding sources. German cockroaches normally feed at night, therefore seeing them during the day is indicative of a large population. The presence of immature and adult cockroaches together shows a well-established infestation.  Infestation on  board ships is likely to be found around areas which are warm and confined such as steam lines, cable bundles, behind false bulkheads, lagging and torn pipe insulation, oven and oven hoods and motor housing such as reefer motors.

Other pests, such as the destructive Asian Gypsy Moth (AGM), have been targeted by carrying out inspections in high risk areas during the flight season and these measures can prove successful in preventing the pests getting on board. However, these are specific measures for specific pests which originate in specific geographic locations with the aim is to prevent them from being carried to another location. Cockroaches, however, are present in all continents and given the number of container movements and the variety of cargoes that are carried it would seem to be a matter of limitation through the use of a variety of preventative strategies described below.


Cockroaches can come on board a ship through a wide variety of means;  from the cardboard packing of ship’s of stores to personal items carried by the crew both of which can easily be  inspected before they come on board. Inspecting cargo is a different matter.

The IMO/ILO/UNECE Code (the Code) for the Packing of Cargo Transport Units  (CTU) does contain some practical advice in Annex 6, although it must be remembered that the Code is predominantly written for shore side movement of cargo.  It should also be noted that the Code is not mandatory unless made so by a national body and is not meant to conflict with any national legislation.  The Code also provides some useful guidance on how to prevent pests such as German cockroaches coming on board and then how to deal with them if they get on board.  There is guidance on ensuring that the CTU doors are kept closed and seals are intact and there is advice on the use of sticky traps, light traps and chemical and biological controls together with advice on the application of pesticides as dusts, granular formations, microcapsules, wettable powder and in suspension applications.  The Code explains where gaseous pesticides or fumigants are applied with the purpose of suffocating or poisoning the pests within the CTU or onboard and how this should be done safely.  The full text of the Code is available on the IMO website.


Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!