Each day TFO Canada publishes a sample of trade news on the Canadian import market along with any new, updated or changed regulations and legislations regarding international trade; countries in which TFO Canada offers services and on the export sectors which it promotes.
The SOLAS Container Weight Verification Requirement: What you need to knowThursday, June 30, 2016 > 16:17:39
(Lloyd's Loading List)
On 23 May, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) issued an update to the SOLAS Container Weight Verification Requirement, stating that countries take a ‘practical and pragmatic approach’ to enforcement for three months after the scheduled transition date of 1 July 2016. The regulation, which states that all loaded ocean containers must be weighed prior to loading, is a fundamental change to processes for many ports, shippers, forwarders, carriers and NVOCCs worldwide, and was already at the centre of much analysis. With attention now turning to the exact meaning of the short memo, Eric Geerts, director of product management for Descartes, provides advice on what the international trade community needs to know.
While container weight is currently covered within existing regulations, the new SOLAS Container Weight Verification Requirement addresses verification of the shipping weight. Container stack collapses, vessel instability, injury to dock and vessel workers, damage to cargo, stress to ships and port machinery, insurance claims, added costs, and significant environmental impact have all added to the urgency for an accurate total weight. With an estimated ten per cent of shipments citing an inaccurate weight, the potential for an incident is substantial. As a result, the SOLAS requirement was implemented as a condition to load marine cargo into a ship.
In addition, as ocean vessels increase in size, the need for an accurate weight is intensifying due to the scale of a potential incident. In today’s modern, multimodal container ports, incorrect weights can also ripple into the rail and truck modes of transport as cargo is transferred to its final or intermediate destination.
The regulation therefore represents a substantial change for ocean trade. From calibration of weighing equipment, how cargo should be weighed, when weighing should occur in the supply chain, and even simple variances in humidity, a number of factors are at play. Additionally, at a practical level, although the shipper needs to use the correct tare weight of the container, not all containers have the same weight. In theory, the weight stated on the door of the container should be used; however, there is no single database that contains all tare weights, although some carriers provide information tables for their own containers.
One method to reduce errors when transmitting a verified weight is for shippers or freight forwarders/consolidators to transmit the information electronically to carriers. This data can, in turn, be further forwarded to the terminal operator. For communicating the Verified Gross Mass (VGM) information to carriers, a new Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) message has been developed called Verified Gross Mass Message (VERMAS). This is the preferred communication protocol of many carriers, freight forwarders and shippers since this message is designed to contain all the required information, including optional fields, and minimises the impact to the existing communication of shipping instructions.
With the IMO memorandum MSC.1/Circ.1548, ocean trade has received clarification on several topics regarding the SOLAS Container Weight Verification Requirement. For example, the notice has clarified that a VGM is unlikely to be required for transshipments (the shipment of goods via an intermediate location) in transit before 1 July.
In addition, the notice affirmed that the container weight requirement is not the only aspect of safety for vessels and ocean shipments. Stability requirements, for example, reach back to the original International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Requirements from 1974, and multiple subsequent regulations and amendments remain in effect.
As for the ‘practical and pragmatic approach’ to enforcement, the notice refers to a sense of flexibility, specifically as it relates to information sharing. Our view is that the three-month transitional period allows organisations further time to refine the communication of a VGM. It is not, however, a softening or more lenient interpretation of enforcement.
Even if a country has not communicated or published national legislation or guidelines, the regulation still needs to be applied in that country. The 1 October date is noted as the closure date on such flexibility. At that time, it can be interpreted that full enforcement will begin as specified in the original regulation.
Most authorities therefore have the same level of urgency as before to the 23 May memo, and the World Shipping Organisation has been tracking the progress of each nation; some have issued comprehensive guidelines, while others have not issued any advice or a simple analysis. Agencies such as the United States Coast Guard have noted that existing U.S. laws are equal to the requirements under this SOLAS amendment, adding further confusion. In some locations, the trend is to weigh containers at the port. Again, it is important to note that the IMO update does not reduce the urgency of compliance.
The SOLAS Container Weight Verification Requirement represents a substantial change within the industry and, while the update memo allows for flexibility between 1 July and 1 October, the enforcement regulation ultimately remains in the hands of individual nations. Many shippers and intermediaries are therefore seeking a single source for integration, rapid deployment, standardised support, increased visibility, transparency and reuse of information to ensure the appropriate steps for timely implementation of the SOLAS amendment with minimal disruption to the supply chain.