New container weight rule will cause havoc

The container weight mandate from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) under the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) which will come into effect from July 1, 2016, is going to cause serious problems to Latin America and Caribbean terminal operators who are working under different rules.

According to the new convention, any shipping container leaving any port in the world, must be accompanied by a shipping document signed either electronically or in hard copy by the shipper on the Bill of Lading showing the verified gross mass of the container in order to be loaded onto a ship.

The new norm will cause problems.

The new norm will cause problems.

The container weight mandate from the IMO under the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention comes after misdeclared weights that contributed to maritime casualties such as the breakup and subsequent beaching of the MSC Napoli on the southern U.K. coast in 2007 and the partial capsizing of a feeder ship in the Spanish port of Algeciras in June, 2015.

The matter was analyzed at the Caribbean Shipping Association Executives’ Conference that recently took place in Port Cañaveral, Florida. Most of the speakers agreed that the new norm will add more difficulties to the process, because it will have to reconcile international rules with national legislation.

“The devil is in the details,” CSA vice-president Juan Carlos Croston told the conference. “The IMO convention provides the framework, but we need to know what the details of the regulations will be for each territory,” said Croston.

MSC Napoli disaster.

MSC Napoli disaster.

“The industry has called for common standards, but that is not going to happen,” said Croston in an interview. “On some islands, we have heard people talking about a margin of error (between the VGM and actual weight of a box) of one tonne (1.1 ton), even though one tonne out of five tonnes is different from one tonne out of 20 tonnes. It’s an absolute number. In other countries, they are talking about using percentages: 1 percent and 2 percent in some territories, up to 5 percent in others.”

National regulations could also impact how people arrive at a VGM using method 1, which calls for weighing the container in its entirety. This method often involves driving a loaded truck and chassis over a weighbridge and subtracting the weight of the truck, chassis, and fuel from the total to arrive at the container’s VGM. That method can be reliant on databases with information on the weights of trucks and chassis to enable their accurate subtraction from the total weight.

However, Croston said that in countries such as Panama, the vast majority of trucks are second-hand and often have replacement engines. “A database would probably not work for this type of equipment,” he said. Thus, government allowances for the use of truck-weight database information could vary by country.

“We have heard that some countries will require that each scale in each warehouse will have to be certified. This assumes the governments will provide the necessary resources to the certification authorities,” said Croston.

He added that Panama’s terminal interests have advised the country’s government “to ensure that the certification authority is not a monopoly and is as open as possible and has the resources it needs, because once you create a monopoly, the supply chain is going to suffer.”

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