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SOLAS VGM guidance

One of the biggest challenges facing the international container handling and shipping industry over recent years is the change to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)'s SOLAS regulations.

In developing the new 2016 SOLAS amendment on container VGM determination, the IMO has kept things simple. From 1 July 2016 onwards, in order to protect the safety of ships, workers both on board and ashore involved in the handling of cargoes, and overall safety at sea, the verified gross mass of any packed container must be declared prior to stowage on board the vessel.

This is not an optional requirement or an indication of best practice, but rather a legal obligation for all vessels affected by SOLAS regulations visiting any port in any IMO member state, anywhere in the world.

Strainstall has compiled key container weighing information to guide you through the amendments and help you achieve full compliance.

Strainstall's container weighing technical papers

Strainstall has published two technical papers outlining the pathway to container VGM compliance, clarifying the technical and commercial options available as well as presenting a cost-effective, robust and accurate solution.

As the 2016 paper sets-out, while the shipper is ultimately responsible for VGM declaration, ports and terminals offer a natural environment for container VGM solutions to be implemented with packed containers already being lifted as part of normal operations.

The provision of this service by ports and terminals provides a very clear opportunity to offer an additional added value commercial service, while a failure to do so will be disruptive and costly to operations.

Download your copies of Strainstall's container weighing white papers:

Container weight verification: How to achieve fast, accurate and commercially viable SOLAS compliance (2016) [5.5MB]

Taking the load off - technology options, costs and opportunities for the implementation of container weight verification (2013) [118KB]

International Marine Organisation (IMO)'s SOLAS maritime treaty amendments

The misdeclaration of container weights is a significant industry issue that arises in almost every trade and has led to a number of catastrophic incidents. The new amendments, approved by the IMO in 2014, have been created to ensure the safety of the ship, the safety of workers both aboard ships and ashore, the safety of cargo and overall safety at sea.

The International Convention for the Safety of Lives at Sea (SOLAS) has been amended (chapter VI, part A, regulation 2) to require (by law) that packed containers' gross mass are verified prior to stowage aboard ship. This legislation covers all SOLAS regulated vessels, which is 98.6% of the world's tonnage.

As of 1 July 2016, it is now a legal requirement for every export container to have a verified container weight as a condition for loading aboard a vessel. All regulated parties within the container supply chain (shippers, carriers, terminal operators) need to establish and implement processes in order to abide by these new regulations in time for the enforcement date.

The IMO's SOLAS amendments provide two approved methods in determining the container weight:

  • Method one - weighing the loaded container
  • Method two - weighing the contents of the container and adding those weights to the containers tare weight

Download the World Shipping Council's presentation "Verification of container weights; background and new operational reality" delivered at The International Cargo Handling Coordination Association's container weighing seminar, September 2015, for further information.

MSC Napoli 

In January 2007, the containership MSC Napoli suffered a structural failure and broke up off the coast of the UK. Misdeclared container weights were identified as a factor causing the structural failure.

Upon reviewing the official investigation report, the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch invited the World Shipping Council and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) to develop industry best practices for safe container handling. For other examples of incidents involving misdeclared container weights see IMO document DSC17/INF.5

The IMO recognised and discussed the problem of incorrect container weights for over seven years, spurred on by the MSC Napoli incident. With the input of many governments and industry organisations, it has now approved an openly and carefully negotiated and crafted compromise proposal for addressing this recognised and documented safety and Customs problem.

Verified gross mass of containers 

In order to help clarify the specific nature of the changes, the World Shipping Council provides the following basic synopsis of the SOLAS requirements:

  1. Every packed container must have a verified container weight as a condition for loading aboard a vessel. There is no exception to this requirement.
  2. Under the SOLAS amendments, there are two approved methods for weighing: Method 1, weighing the fully loaded container or Method 2, weighing the contents of the container and adding those weights to the tare weight of the container.
  3. Estimating the weight is not permitted. The shipper has the responsibility for weighing the packed container or it's contents. Under either method, the weighing equipment used must meet national certification and calibration requirements.
  4. A carrier may rely on a shipper's signed weight verification to be accurate. The carrier does not need to be a 'verifier' of the shippers weight nor do they need to verify that the weight declared according to 'Method 2', has been completed by a certified method and approved by the competent authority of the jurisdiction in which the container was packed and sealed. It is important to note that for the shipper's weight verification to be compliant with the SOLAS requirement, it must be 'signed', meaning a specific person representing the shipper is named and identified as having verified the accuracy of the weight calculation on behalf of the shipper.
  5. The lack of a signed shipper weight verification can be remedied by weighing the packed container at the port. If the marine terminal does not have the equipment to weigh the container and provide a verified weight, alternative means must be found to obtain a verified container weight.
  6. When a marine terminal receives a packed export container that does not have a signed shipper weight verification, there will need to be processes in place at the terminal for obtaining the weight verification for the vessel stow plan.
  7. If a packed container is weighed at the load port, that weight is to be used for the vessel stow planning.
  8. Vessel stow plans should use verified weights for all packed containers loaded board.

For more information on the IMO's requirement for container weight verification or to download the full text of applicable SOLAS regulations visit the World Shipping Council website.

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