Blog March 8, 2016

The issue weighing on all our minds

By Nicola Byers

After the traditionally slow month of January, February seems to have flown by. This is great for those waiting for warmer weather, but for the shipping industry it means that there are only four months to go until new IMO rule on container weight verification come into effect on July 1.

In case you have been living in a cave for the last year or so, here is a brief recap of the situation. The amendments to IMO’s Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention mandate that a verified gross mass (VGM) is provided for all laden shipping containers prior to loading onto a vessel. The aim is to improve safety because intentional or accidental mis-declarations of weight have caused serious maritime accidents and casualties. If a container does not have a VGM, it cannot be loaded. The news rules automatically pass into law for all 170 IMO signatory nations without any need for further ratification.

Shippers can either weigh a fully packed container as a single item (Method 1) or weigh the cargo, palleting, packaging and securing materials separately and add it to the tare weight  of the container (Method 2).

Intermodal Eye has covered these regulations before, highlighting Five things that you need to know about the regulations and looking at the legal and contractual concerns that have been raised.

In December last year, WSC, the TT Club, ICHCA and the GSF released an open-access FAQ guidance paper that attempted to clear up the confusion. That was a very welcome development and we recommend that anyone with an interest in these new regulations reads that document carefully as soon as possible. More resources can be found on the World Shipping Council website.

But there are still plenty of areas where more clarity is needed. For example, certification of container weighing equipment is a national issue, as are legal tolerances for weighing accuracy, and many countries have yet to produce clear guidance on these matters.

Shippers are responsible for compliance with the new rules – and some of them are not at all pleased. US shippers, with the Agriculture Transportation Coalition at the forefront, are upset at what they see as a lack of consultation before the rules were announced and with the extra costs that they believe will come with complying with the rules.

It is understood that unless a formal motion to delay is lodged with IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) by late March, nothing can stop the rules from becoming binding from 1 July. The US Coast Guard has refused to ask IMO for a delay despite shipper requests but, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal last month, officials have said that they will not impose fines or other penalties on shippers who don’t comply in the first year. If asked by a shipping line, they will remove a container from a ship, but they view it as the job of the shipping lines to enforce the rules.

It is still not clear exactly how the terminal operators and shipping lines will do this. Will they admit containers without a VGM in the hope that the paperwork will arrive in time and they can be loaded, or will they refuse to admit them at all? In the US, only one port – Charleston – has said that it will use its own equipment to provide weighing services for shippers.

However that plays out, it is not a good idea for shippers to cross their fingers and hope for a delay. The best way to avoid worries about how rules will be enforced is to make sure that you comply!

There are plenty of ways in which all the parties involved can prepare for implementation now, so that disruption in July is minimised. These include reviewing current shipping procedures against the new rules, assessing which weighing option will work best, upgrading equipment and information systems if necessary, changing contractual arrangements and implementing necessary operational changes.