Hutchison Ports (UK) Limited in its latest ship2shore Magazine takes a look at methods of weighing containers.
Half a century after containerization first emerged to transform the world of shipping, a landmark new regulation is on the horizon.
From 1 July 2016, an amendment to the SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) Convention will require every packed export container to have its weight verified before it is loaded on to a ship.
The new regulation puts this responsibility firmly on the shipper – but how many shippers are actually ready for container weighing? The Freight Transport Association recently warned that shippers could fall foul of the new legislation after 1 July 2016 if they don’t put measures in place to verify the gross mass of their containers.
There will be two accepted methods of weighing containers. First, the packed container can be weighed using certified and calibrated equipment. Second, a ‘calculated weight’ method can be used – this involves adding up the tare weight of the container plus all the individual items packed and the packing materials, using an approved process.
Estimated weight will not be accepted. Apart from having an accepted method of establishing the verified gross mass (VGM) of a container, the shipper is also required to communicate that VGM, signed, in advance of the preparation of the ship’s stowage planning.
Chris Welsh, the FTA’s Director of Global & European Policy, said: “Shippers will be responsible for verifying container weights before loading and they need to be putting plans in place now to ensure they are ready. Containers without a verified weight won’t be loaded onto container vessels from 1 July 2016.”
He urged shippers to start discussions with their carriers and freight forwarders in order to put the logistics and communications systems in place that will ensure compliance with the rules, and avoid non-shipment and delays in the supply chain.
As to who the shipper is, that in itself can be complex. In this case, it’s the company or person whose name is on the ocean carrier’s Bill of Lading. That means the responsibility for the declaration could lie with a freight forwarder, logistics operator or non-vessel operating common carrier (NVOCC).
A survey carried out by the shipping e-marketplace Inntra found that only 30% of shippers and forwarders would be ready for the new regulations in time – and Inntra also pointed out that the real deadline to comply would actually be earlier for containers setting out from Asia to Europe if they are scheduled to be transhipped after July 1.
Container weights have, in fact, always been required – but over the years there have been growing concerns that the weights being declared were often wildly inaccurate, causing very real dangers onboard vessels, in ports and on roads and rail.
The sinking of the MSC Napoli on the south coast of England really put the spotlight on the problem – as the containers spilled on to the beach and their contents were revealed, it became clear that misdeclaration of weight was avery significant issue.
The SOLAS amendments which enter into force on 1 July were adopted by the International Maritime Organization to improve maritime safety and reduce the dangers to container ships, their crews and all those involved in container transport.
What are the risks? In a port, misdeclared container weights could cause a stack collapse, road and terminal vehicles to overturn or a large fork-lift to tip over. At sea, the problem can lead to instability and even contribute to the loss of a ship altogether. Outside the port gates, there are the dangers to the public, on roads and rail.
“Overweight containers played a key role in the breakup and beaching of the MSC Napoli in the United Kingdom in 2007, along with the capsizing of the Daneb, a 500-TEU feeder ship, in the Spanish port of Algeciras in June 2011,” said the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association (ICHCA).
ICHCA, the World Shipping Council, the TT Club and the Global Shippers’ Forum, form a broad industry coalition which recently released a new FAQ document addressing issues around the new container weighing regulations. In a statement, the coalition said: “Container safety is a shared responsibility and all parties have an interest in improving the safety of ships, the safety of cargo and the reduction of risks to the lives to ships’ crews and others throughout the containerised supply chain.”