Blog May 30, 2014

Five things you need to know about container weighing

By Nicola Byers
New international rules requiring the weight of all loaded containers to be verified moved one step closer to reality on 20 May when the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) announced that its Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) had approved draft amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention. Here at Intermodal Eye, we can answer 5 key questions for you about the new legislation.

1. When will the new rules come into force?

July 2016, subject to final approval of the changes to SOLAS Chapter VI at the IMO meeting in Geneva this November. But now that the MSC has passed the draft amendments, the final OK is pretty much a formality.

2. Aren’t shippers already required to declare container weights on the bill of lading?

Indeed they are. But in reality weights are frequently misdeclared, deliberately or otherwise, putting people, containers, cargoes and vessels at risk. While precise statistics are hard to come by, the TT Club, which insures around 80% of the global container fleet, believes that up to two-thirds of cargo claims could be attributed to misdeclaration of container weight and/or poor packing (and the two often go hand in hand).

When the 4,400TEU ‘MSC Napoli’ broke up off the UK south coast in January 2007, 137 out of the 600 containers it was carrying on deck were found to be at least three tonnes heavier or lighter than declared on the ship’s manifest. It was this incident that finally sparked off a concerted campaign by the World Shipping Council and others to have the IMO change the rules.

Investigation into the partial capsizing of the ‘Deneb’ in 2011 during unloading southern Spain revealed that a whopping 42% of boxes on the 500TEU feedership (64 out of 150) were not loaded as originally declared. Most recently, a preliminary report by investigators said that overweight containers were a contributing factor in the July 2013 sinking of the 8,000TEU ‘MOL Comfort’ in the Indian Ocean. This was the most severe containership casualty to date, leading to total loss of the vessel and all her cargo.

The trend towards ultra large container carriers – with over 100 vessels of 10,000TEU and above due for delivery in the next 2 years – further heightens the risks associated with misdeclared containers. The potential scale and cost of losing a fully laden Triple-E hardly bears thinking about.

3. So what do the new IMO rules require?

The changes make it mandatory to verify the gross mass of a container using one of two methods: weighing the entire loaded container using calibrated and certified equipment or using the “calculated weight” method. The latter involves weighing the individual packages, plus dunnage and other such items and adding this total to the tare weight of the empty container. A certificate of weight will need to be provided.

4. Who’s responsible for verifying container weights?

The responsibility for accurate declaration of container weight still lies with the shipper. However, other parties also now also have explicit responsibilities for ensuring that weights have been properly verified, and for making that information available prior to ships being loaded. This includes the ‘terminal representative’. Many think it is inevitable that ports and terminals will become de facto ‘weight policemen’ in the transport chain. But others argue that this is too late and containers should not be allowed to leave packhouses without
proper weight verification.

5. What happens now?

Assuming IMO approval in November, national governments will start working with industry to put systems in place in time for the July 2016 deadline. But with many question marks still hanging over the execution and enforcement of the new rules, we can expect a lot more debate on this issue over the next 2 years.