Wednesday, February 10, 2016

SOLAS Changes to Cargo and Container Weights Need to be Addressed by Freight Forwarders and Shippers

Exporters and Agents - This Means You - and This Means NOW
Shipping News Feature
UK – WORLDWIDE – There are only five months to go before the mandatory changes instituted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) come into force. The amendments need to be clearly understood by freight forwarders and ocean shippers alike to ensure cargo is accepted for shipment. From 1 July 2016 it will be a violation of SOLAS regulations to load a packed container onto a vessel if the Vessel Operator and Marine Terminal Operator do not have a verified container weight declaration.

The shipper is responsible for the verification of the packed container’s weight, therefore ALL shippers will need to establish policies and procedures to ensure the implementation of this regulatory change. The TT Club has a regularly updated, dedicated web page to keep shippers abreast of any changes but in a recent blog John Good Shipping has thoughtfully laid out a set of ten instructions which cover the main points in a form simple enough to follow. They are:

1. Weight Verification

Before a packed container can be loaded onto a ship, its weight must be determined through weighing.

It is a violation of SOLAS to load a packed container on board a vessel to which SOLAS applies without a proper weight verification.


2. Two permissible methods for weighing.

Under the SOLAS amendments, there are two permissible methods for weighing.

Method 1 – requires weighing the container after it has been packed, or:

Method 2 – requires weighing all the cargo and contents of the container and adding those weights to the container’s tare weight as indicated on the door of the container. The IMO Guidelines state that Method 2 ‘would be inappropriate and impractical’ for ‘certain types of cargo items (e.g., scrap metal, unbagged grain and other cargo in bulk)’ that do not easily lend themselves to individual weighing of the items to be packed in the container.

3. Estimating weight is not permitted

Estimating weight is not permitted. The shipper (or by arrangement of the shipper, a third party) has a responsibility to weigh the packed container or to weigh its contents.

4. Weighing Equipment must meet National Certification and Calibration Requirements

Under both methods, the weighing equipment used must meet national certification and calibration requirements (details of these can be found from your local Trading Standards Office). Further, the party packing the container cannot use the weight somebody else has provided, except in one specific set of defined circumstances.

The one exception is as follows: ‘Individual, original sealed packages that have the accurate mass of the packages and cargo items (including any other material such as packing material and refrigerants inside the packages) clearly and permanently marked on their surfaces, do not need to be weighed again when they are packed into the container.

This does not permit estimating the cargo weight, but permits using accurate weights that have been clearly and permanently marked on individual, original sealed packages (e.g., flat screen TVs that have their weight (e.g. X kg.) marked by the manufacturer on the box containing the TV).’

5. Signed Verification

A carrier may rely on a shipper’s signed weight verification to be accurate. The carrier does not need to be a ‘verifier’ of the shipper’s weight verification. Nor do the SOLAS amendments require a carrier to verify that a shipper providing a verified weight according to Method 2 has used a method which has been certified and approved by the competent authority of the jurisdiction in which the packing and sealing of the container was completed.

However, it is important to note that, for the shipper’s weight verification to be compliant with the SOLAS requirement, it must be ‘signed’, meaning a specific person representing the shipper is named and identified as having verified the accuracy of the weight calculation on behalf of the shipper

6. What if it hasn’t been signed?

The lack of a signed shipper weight verification can be remedied by weighing the packed container at the port. If the marine terminal does not have equipment to weigh the container and provide a verified weight, alternative means must be found to obtain a verified container weight otherwise the packed container may not be loaded on to the ship.

If the shipping document, with regard to a packed container, does not provide the verified gross mass and the master or his representative and the terminal representative have not obtained the verified gross mass of the packed container, it shall not be loaded on to the ship.

7. What happens if the shipper hasn’t provided the required verified gross mass of the container?

Notwithstanding that a shipper is responsible for obtaining and documenting the verified gross mass of a packed container, situations may occur where a packed container is delivered to a port terminal facility without the shipper having provided the required verified gross mass of the container. Such a container will not be loaded onto the ship until its gross mass has been obtained.

8. What happens if there is any discrepancy?

Any discrepancy between a verified gross mass of a packed container obtained prior to the container’s delivery to the port terminal facility and a verified gross mass of that container obtained by that port facility’s weighing of the container, will result in the container not being loaded on board the vessel.

9. What are the consequences or penalties when a VGM (verified gross mass) is not available?

A container without a VGM should not be loaded onto the vessel until its VGM has been obtained. In order to allow the continued efficient onward movement of such containers, the master or his representative and the terminal representative may obtain the VGM of the packed container on behalf of the shipper. This may be done by weighing the packed container in the terminal or elsewhere. The VGM obtained in this manner should be used in the preparation of the ship loading plan (please refer to Chapter 13 of the SOLAS guideline).

The shipper will be responsible for any costs that arise (e.g. weighing costs, repacking and administrative costs). Regulatory penalties will be defined by the individual national legislations.

10. Where can relevant further guidance be found?

Further guidance regarding SOLAS and the verified gross mass of a container, can be obtained from:

  • The World Shipping Council: Here
  • FIATA: Here
  • The British International Freight Association (BIFA) with their link to the UK Maritime and Coastguard agency: Here

Also John Good staff are on hand to answer any other questions about the forthcoming changes and can be contacted here.

Already the ports are preparing themselves to accommodate customers and Stephen Abraham, Chief Operating Officer of Port of Felixstowe commented:

”We have met with many customers and from their feedback it is clear that there is still a lot of uncertainty amongst exporters about the new rules. The rules have the potential to cause significant disruption to export supply chains. To help avoid this, we have decided to provide a service where export containers can be weighed at the port before being loaded. We will provide further details about how the weighing service will work in good time to ensure all exporters can be compliant by the time the new rules come into force.”