20 April 2016

US Dithers over SOLAS Export Freight Container Weighing System as the World Moves On  

Logistically America Starts to Look Like a Third World Country

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Shipping News Feature US – UK – WORLDWIDE – As sectors of US industry rail against the requirements of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) incoming Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations, which mandate the weighing of all loaded export freight containers and which take effect from 1 July, the rest of the world looks on in disbelief. Logistically America is increasingly taking on the appearance of a third world country as several forms of freight transport differ from, or lag behind, practices in Europe, Asia and beyond.

Last week we had the representatives of the country’s agricultural producers claiming the task of providing a Verified Gross Mass (VGM) for each loaded box could add up to 40% to their export costs. Compare this with the figures released yesterday by DP World, responsible for two of Britain’s largest container ports, which will weigh each box and supply a VGM with electronic signature for just £17.50 ($25), or indeed accept the shippers own VGM for processing for just a pound.

These figures, published by DP World on a dedicated UK website which in itself is an excellent source of information on the new rules, make a mockery of the wails of complaint issuing forth from both shippers and ports in the US. The Port of Oakland, for example, has joined the shambles offered up by Long Beach, Los Angeles, Virginia and others, all of whom have baldly stated they will not be offering weighing services. Some others are not so backward with Charleston for example saying a service can be provided. They also draw a sharp contrast for the rates published by DP World for its Vancouver operation.

It seems then, short of the House Committee instructing the Coast Guard to ensure the rules are followed, that yet again America will lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to administering a transport regulation aimed solely at saving lives. The ongoing debacle of the Highway Trust Fund lumbered on unfunded whilst US infrastructure literally crumbled, the persistent refusal to accept tachographs in truck cabs, a measure which has maximised accountability of road haulage operators elsewhere whilst drastically reducing fatal accidents, remains a no go area.

The onus under the regulations is upon shippers to provide the VGM, realistically though they should be able to expect a service to be provided by their port of choice as a truly accurate weight can only really be obtained by lifting the packed container using scales to establish the VGM. If some ports provide this facility, whilst others do not, this will undoubtedly have an effect on the route chosen in many cases.

There are so many things to praise about American culture and lifestyle and, even in the field of logistics one can see a credible argument for the protectionist duty rates charged on certain imports to protect home produced goods such as tyres and steel, or perhaps even the Jones Act which ensures higher prices for consumers, despite protestations to the contrary, but protects US jobs. In this case however there would seem to be no defence. If ‘lesser’ countries can adopt the new, safer SOLAS practices is America really capable of once again simply ignoring it?

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