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New SOLAS Container Weight Rules Could be Delayed

Tasked with overseeing the safety and security of shipping, and the prevention of marine pollution by ships, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), has adopted mandatory amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). The amendments, which were set to go into effect on July 1, 2016, state that containers must have verified weights as a condition for loading a packed container onto a ship for export.

The rules could be delayed. In February, the U.S. Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC) released a position paper and called for a congressional inquiry opposing the new rules, stating that the new international container weight verification rule threatens U.S. exporters with lost business and supply chain turmoil. Through this paper (which is available online here), the organization has called for a U.S. Congress review of the issues and a delay in the implementation of the new rules.

“We believe that unless thoughtfully considered, by individuals with intimate familiarity with the export supply chain process, this rule will create major turmoil at the marine terminals and a very significant impediment to U.S. exports,” states the AgTC, whose members constitute U.S. agriculture and forest products exporters. “This rule was never submitted to Congress, no committee or subcommittee of Congress ever reviewed it. It was not reviewed or approved by a Federal agency, nor published in the Federal Register. There has been no input from the shipping community.”

While no decision has been made yet regarding AgTC’s paper and inquiry, the SOLAS container weight rule could legally be delayed past its July 1 start date, according to the Journal of Commerce. “The United States and any other country that is party to SOLAS can delay implementation of the International Maritime Organization’s controversial container weight rule by up to a year, a fact bound to increase pressure on the U.S. Coast Guard to extend the deadline past July 1 to avoid potential trade disruption.”

Key SOLAS Changes

If the new rules go into effect as planned, after July 1 it will be a violation of SOLAS to load a packed container onto a vessel if the vessel operator and marine terminal operator do not have a verified container weight. 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 of all the cargo and contents of the container and adding those weights to the container’s tare weight as indicated on the door end of the container

This requirement will apply globally and estimating weight is not permitted. Shippers, freight forwarders, vessel operators, and terminal operators will all need to establish policies and procedures to ensure the implementation of this regulatory change.

According to the IMO’s website, the group’s primary goal is to ensure that ship operators cannot address their financial issues by simply cutting corners and compromising on safety, security, and environmental performance. This approach also encourages innovation and efficiency, according to the IMO.

“The effect of these requirements on containerized supply chains is that the verification of the gross weight of a packed export container will be required before the container is loaded aboard a ship,” states WSC in its Guidelines for Improving Safety and Implementing the SOLAS Container Weight Verification Requirements.

“To ensure compliance with the SOLAS amendments, participants within the supply chain (especially shippers, carriers, and terminal operators) will need to establish and implement processes to ensure that the verified container weights are provided to the necessary parties in a timely fashion and are used by the terminal operator and vessel operator in the vessel’s container stowage plan.”

Shared Responsibility

Starting in July, the shipper named on the ocean bill of lading or sea waybill is responsible for providing the ocean carrier and the terminal operator with the verified gross mass (VGM) of a packed container.

SOLAS imposes an obligation on the carrier and the terminal operator to not load a packed container aboard a ship without a VGM for that container. Non-compliance with this obligation may result in commercial and operational penalties, such as delayed shipment and additional costs to the shipper.

The penalties may involve repacking costs, administration fees for amending documents, demurrage charges, delayed or cancelled shipments, etc. Enforcement and “policing” of the VGM rules are the responsibility of the local state (government) authorities responsible for maritime affairs.

When it comes to SOLAS compliance, DB Schenker has you covered. As the world’s leading global logistics provider, we’ve been delivering premium performance and transportation solutions for more than 140 years. Please contact your dedicated account executive for specific and individualized assistance.

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