Sea Cargo Manifest (SCM)


A manifest is a summary of all cargo loaded on a ship, including descriptions, container numbers, shipper and consignee details, weight, measurements, packing information, and cargo specifics like UN Numbers, International Maritime Organization (IMO) Class for hazardous goods, temperature settings for refrigerated cargo, and dimensions for over-dimensional cargo.


The sea cargo manifest is created by the shipping line using bill of lading data provided by the booking party. It compiles all bills of lading for the voyage, organising them by port of loading and port of discharge. This compilation is done by the shipping line or its agent after confirming that all cargo is loaded on the ship.


Copies of the sea cargo manifest are distributed to various stakeholders involved in the cargo’s voyage, including customs (at the ports of load and discharge), ports (at the ports of load, discharge, and transshipment), the destination agent, and the shipping line’s headquarters for revenue calculations. While the manifest is primarily transmitted electronically, in many countries, it is still submitted manually to customs in multiple paper copies as mandated by local customs regulations.

Legal framework

The Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC) provides definition of “cargo declaration” and outlines that the carrier shall be held responsible to the customs for ensuring that all goods are included in the cargo declaration or are brought to the attention of the customs in another authorised manner.

Ships must comply with local customs regulations, obligating the submission of cargo manifest copies outlining goods intended for port discharge, transshipment, or transit—this is mandatory. Failure to submit it before the ship arrives at a port may lead to cargo discharge restrictions.

Many countries mandate digital submission to customs, often requiring advance submission at the port of discharge.


The majority of countries globally accept manifests in electronic or paper formats. Approximately 90-95% of major ports are likely to transmit and accept these documents electronically.

Key standards

The primary digital standards for submitting sea cargo manifests to customs are the UN/EDIFACT formats CUSCAR and CUSDEC. The WCO Data Model (WCO DM) outlines that the declaration/consignment level is the primary basis for a cargo report. Additionally, various independent and country-specific proprietary systems enable electronic customs document transmission, each with its unique data requirements based on its design.

Major differences between standards

Carriers, non-vessel operating common carriers (NVOCCs), forwarders, customs brokers, and consolidators have relied on EDI standard for sea cargo manifest transmission over many years.

While some API capabilities exist among stakeholders, there are no equivalent standards for this document.


Data exchange platforms facilitating this document through EDI messaging can vary across companies and are often integrated with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software.


Approximately 90-95% of major ports are likely to transmit and accept these documents electronically. With user-friendly standards, further adoption can be swift and extensive.