The International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted amendments to the Safety of Life at Seas (“SOLAS”) Convention in November 2014, which will become effective on July, 1, 2016. Prior to loading a container on a vessel for export, the shipper will be required to provide the carrier with a “container weight verification” that includes the “verified gross mass (VGM)” for all ocean containers shipped globally. The VGM will be used for proper vessel stowage. One of SOLAS’ goals is to help prevent accidents for vessel and terminal operators.
All cargo must be weighed by using only calibrated and certified equipment that must meet accuracy standards of the State in which the equipment is being used. Estimating the VGM is not permitted. The responsible party for the VGM under SOLAS is undoubtedly the shipper named on the carrier’s bill of lading, regardless of who loaded the container.
A shipper is defined under SOLAS as the legal entity or person named on the bill of lading or sea waybill or equivalent multimodal transport document (i.e. a “through” bill of lading) as shipper and or who (or in whose name or on whose behalf) a contract of carriage has been concluded with a shipping company.
A container with a gross mass exceeding its maximum permitted gross mass may not be allowed to be loaded on a vessel. There are two methods for calculating the VGM:
1) By weighing the packed container.
2) By weighing all packages and cargo items, including the mass of pallets, dunnage and other packing and securing material to be packed in the container (combined as “the content”) and reporting as the total VGM the combined weight of the contents and the container’s tare weight (or empty container weight which is always displayed on the container exterior near the doors).
SOLAS requires the shipper’s weight verification to be certified and signed by the shipper, or by a person representing the shipper and verifying the accuracy of the weight calculation on behalf of the shipper. However, its submission can be done in a variety of ways including hard copy and electronic format. It will be up to the ocean carrier to define their acceptable methods for receiving the data or certification.
As we get closer to the implementation date, carriers and terminal operators have begun adopting friendlier SOLAS procedures for dealing with containers missing the VGM and/or the weight certificate. Many of these facilities that have container weighing capabilities have announced that they will weigh containers either for free or for a fee and report the container weight to the ocean carrier in order to avoid shipping delays.
We are a bit more than a month away from the implementation date, but there are plenty of inconsistencies globally. Rather than standardizing a global policy, policies and procedures are being established at the country level, and this would require compliance with the rules in the countries of export, import and the ship owner’s flag. There are still many unanswered questions for the trade, including but not limited to the following: Operational procedures and specific cut-off times, alternatives for transmitting or submitting the VGM, allowance for weight variances, liabilities, compliance, enforcement, penalties for non-compliance. In the United States the U.S. Coast Guard is the agency in charge of SOLAS compliance.
The Maritime Safety Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) advised stakeholders on May 23, 2016 to adopt a “practical and pragmatic” approach to SOLAS compliance for a period of three months after July 1, 2016 in order to provide flexibility for documenting, communicating and sharing VGM data. However, this is a non-binding advisory, and the implementation date remains in place for July 1, 2016.
For now, it is of utmost importance for shippers to have the proper equipment in place to weigh cargo and be able to certify it for all shipments exported as of July 1, 2016. In the next few weeks, we will provide more specific details, as additional information is made available by the ocean carriers.