Is it possible to always ship art via sea freight?

By Queen's
February 02, 2022 12:30pm
shipping art via sea freight

Could we move to be the first fine art logistics provider to only ship art via sea freight? A recent conversation between our shipping team prompted us to consider exactly why it was that we couldn’t encourage more clients to adopt sea freight instead of air freight.

We have made the commitment to half our carbon emissions by 2026, in line with the Paris agreement, and working towards a sea freight model would drastically reduce emissions whilst also still allowing clients to continue to move their works around the globe as necessary. Moving an artwork via sea freight can, for example, reduces it’s impact on the climate by around 95%.

However, unfortunately, it isn’t all plane sailing.

Time remains a challenge

The long travelling time required for shipping art via sea freight means that in many circumstances sea freight remains a challenge for galleries and collectors who require works to arrive quicker than sea freight can allow. The average time to ship a work from London to New York, for example, takes about 14 days plus loading and unloading at each port. Transporting the work via plane, on the other hand, takes just 8 hours plus loading and unloading which can be completed within the day.

That, in itself, doesn’t seem much of a compromise but it is important to keep in mind that sea freight can be subject to delays that, unfortunately, can not be foreseen until the works are in transit. It can therefore be a risk to ship works via sea freight that are needed for a fair or exhibition if no time is built in to account for this. When we do ship clients’ work via sea freight, we always recommend adding a buffer into your timeline to allow for delays at the port or whilst the shipment is en route.

Works are (statically) at an increased risk

Historically, shipping art via sea freight has been seen to be considerably riskier than transporting works via air freight. Insurance premiums are normally higher when shipping works via sea when compared to air. However, attitudes towards this are now beginning to change and there are several steps that can be taken to mitigate the risk when opting to ship works via sea freight.

We always recommended that works be shipped via FCL (Full Container Load). For art fairs when clients are moving large quantities of art or when logistics companies can consolidate multiple consignors of works this is also generally much more cost-competitive than air-freight and is increasingly possible when timelines are flexible. In certain circumstances, LCL may be an option and your Queen’s contact will be able to advise on this.

As standard, we also recommend that only Reefer (refrigerated) Grade A containers are booked as although this does cost slightly more, it means that the containers themselves offer greater integrity and are in a much better condition. It is also best practice to ensure that all works are loaded with a 4-inch gap on all sides to allow for air circulation. Much like airfreight, it is always recommended that works are packed in bespoke crates to ensure that the works are adequately protected throughout the move.

Not all materials can be shipped via sea freight

As much as the idea of moving to a full sea freight option is attractive, at this point, not all materials are deemed suitable to ship by sea. These include bronze sculptures and unframed works on paper, for example. That said, the more items that are shipped by sea, the more likely this is to change as insurance companies and logistics partners alike become more open to shipping these materials with packing methods suitable for sea transport.

Sea freight is still an option

Although clearly there are still challenges that need to be worked through when considering shipping art via sea freight, we would welcome the opportunity to arrange more sea freight shipments for clients.

Shipping works via sea freight is still a great option when timelines are flexible (if a work is going into storage for instance), or when the works being shipped are bulky or heavy and where costs would be prohibitive via air. Art fair shipments, where large quantities of works are being moved are also a great time to consider sea freight. Providing the works can be scheduled for collection early enough in order to allow for the increased transit time then, in many circumstances, sea freight will be possible.

Should you be looking to explore how to ship more works via sea freight, your Queen’s contact remains and your disposal and will be able to advise on the most appropriate option available to you. Alternatively email and one of our international shipping managers will be in touch. 


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