Container Weighing Weighs Down Shippers


A survey carried out by Drewry has found that confusion reigns over the upcoming container weighing rule with most stakeholders expecting some delays after its implementation on July 1, 2016.

There is just over a month to go before the new safety regulation comes into effect that will mandate container weighing, but at the eleventh hour there is still much confusion over how shippers and forwarders will be able to comply. 

Overweight containers have been cited as a contributing factor or cause of a number of maritime accidents, including the MSC Napoli grounding in 2007 and in November, 2014 the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) adopted mandatory amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) that will require shippers (and forwarders too when they are named as the shipper on the bill of lading) to verify and provide their container’s verified gross mass weight (VGM) to the ocean carrier and port terminal prior to it being loaded onto a ship.

To verify the container’s gross weight shippers/forwarders will either have to weigh the loaded container itself or the component cargo items and add the tare mass of the container.

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If a packed container is received at a port facility for export without a verified gross weight, it shall not be loaded on a vessel until such verification is obtained.

However, as the countdown towards July 1 continues, it is clear that many shippers and forwarders still do not know how to comply.

Better information on compliance requirements and options is starting to be communicated but there is still a lack of standardisation and coordination.

Complicating matters further, the US Coast Guard recently said that existing US laws for providing the gross verified mass of containers were equivalent to the requirements in the amendments to SOLAS, but it’s unclear if one of the Coast Guard’s approved methods breaks the IMO’s standpoint that shippers have responsibility for providing the VGM.

To try and measure how ready the industry is for the new rules and what special measures might be used to cope with delays, Drewry has conducted a survey of our registered users of Container Insight Weekly.

The survey had 180 respondents in total, of which 88 were either shippers or forwarders, while 31 identified themselves as ocean carriers and 61 as ‘other’.

Virtually all of the respondents were aware of the new container weighing rules. While awareness isn’t the problem, getting information on how to deal with it is, as 45% of shippers said that their service providers haven’t given sufficient information on the new VGM rules.

Some 55% of shippers said that they expect some delays to container shipments and/or cargo rolls as a direct result of the VGM rule implementation on July 1. The ratio of forwarders and ocean carriers expecting delays was even higher.

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In terms of where these delays and/or cargo rolls will occur, Asia was the region with the highest number of respondents, followed closely by North America, Africa, Latin America and Europe. Oceania had noticeably fewer respondents anticipating delays.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has notified its member airlines about possible disruptions in the ocean sector from the new SOLAS law that could lead to spikes airfreight volumes, but according to Drewry’s survey results, any uplift will be minimal at best.

Approximately 80% of shipper/BCO respondents said that they will not shift any volume to the sky, while 17% said that will shift only to a very limited extent i.e. not more than normal volume +20% and just one respondent said that they will to air to a large extent – that is in excess of 20% above normal volume.

When asked if they will build in safety stocks to counter the supply risks caused by the container weighing rule only 17% said yes, which implies that while delays are generally expected they are not thought to be sufficient to cause stockouts.

An ongoing poll published by PTI recently found that the majority of voters are either not ready or are still confused by the new container weighing rule.

Despite this, the US appears to be making progress after the Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association announced that it will work with six major US ports to develop a method for weighing containers.

The Drewry View: Progress is being made, but it is clear that not all shippers will be ready to comply with the new IMO rule. We urge any shipper or forwarder to talk to their carriers as a matter of urgency to clarify and finalise their compliance processes and to plan for likely port and logistics delays from July 1.

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