The implications of the new International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) amendment on verified gross mass(1) have been widely discussed in the shipping industry in recent days. It is clear that, as from July 1 2016, the concept of 'estimated weight' has been abandoned and all interests must now collaborate to determine the 'verified gross mass' of any packed container that is to be loaded on board any ship to which Chapter IV of SOLAS applies.(2) Thus, the shipper must inform the shipping company of the verified gross mass sufficiently far in advance for the shipping company to prepare its stowage plan properly.(3)

In practice, the SOLAS amendment requires that packed containers be properly weighed so that this information can be obtained before they are loaded on board a vessel for transportation. The aim is to avoid incidents such as that which occurred in 2007 when the hull of the MSC Napoli was severely damaged, with the difference between the actual weight of cargo found on board and the weight of that cargo as previously declared by the shippers before loading being one possible cause of the damage.(4)

Although the SOLAS amendment appears self-explanatory, some specifics are left to contracting states to deal with. Two issues are crucial in this regard:

  • The contracting state is to determine which "accuracy standards and requirements" will apply for weighing equipment to be understood as a duly "calibrated and certified" unit; and
  • Method 2 (whereby the verified gross mass is determined on the basis of the weight of all cargo within a container - including the weight of pallets and any other securing materials, and the tare weight of the container itself) should be employed by "using a certified method approved by the competent authority of the State in which packing of the container was completed".(5)

Resolution 2793 of July 1 2016 addresses this issue in Colombia. The regulation reiterates what is stated in the SOLAS amendment itself and what the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has stated in its Guidelines Regarding the Verified Gross Mass of a Container Carrying Cargo.(6)

Regarding the two issues highlighted above, Resolution 2793 provides that equipment will be considered properly calibrated and certified if it meets the precision standards and requirements established by the Ministry of Transportation and the Superintendence of Industry and Commerce (and any other authorities that may replace them in future).(7) Regarding the possibility of using Method 2, Resolution 2793 basically reiterates Section 5.1.2. of the IMO guidelines. There are no further requirements in relation to the approved method to use this technique or the certification to be obtained in this regard (as mentioned in Sections 5.1.2.3 and 5.1.2.3.1 of the IMO guidelines).

The Colombian regulation also makes clear that any such containers can be weighed in any local port facilities before loading whenever this service is specifically required by the shipper.(8) The document provided by the port facility administrator will be regarded as a declaration based on the use of "properly calibrated and certified equipment by the competent authority".(9) The regulation also clarifies that if the container is to be weighed in the port facilities, this service should be billed as part of the regular port facility costs; but if any additional weighing is required (and an agreement is place to do so), this may be billed as an additional service, having regard to the tariffs registered for this purpose with the Superintendence of Ports and Transport.(10)

Finally, the regulation stipulates that as the verified gross mass obligation rests with the shipper, it should not create any extra expenses in the operational chain.(11) However, it is clear that in certain circumstances this obligation may in fact generate new costs. In any case, the IMO guidelines state only that the interests should reach agreement between themselves in this regard.(12)

For further information on this topic please contact Javier Franco at Franco & Abogados Asociados by telephone (+571 7035633) or email (jfranco@francoabogados.com.co). The Franco & Abogados Asociados website can be accessed at www.francoabogados.com.co.

Endnotes

(1) International Maritime Organisation Resolution MSC.380 (94), available at www.imo.org/en/OurWork/Safety/Cargoes/Containers/Documents/resolution%20MSC-380-94.pdf.

(2) With the exception of roll-on, roll-off vessels involved in "short international voyages". See MSC.1/Circ. 1475, Annex, p2, available at www.imo.org/en/OurWork/Safety/Cargoes/Containers/Documents/MSC.1%20Circ.1475.pdf.

(3) MSC.1/Circ. 1475, Annex, p1. Also take into account that:

"Because the contract of carriage is between the shipper and the shipping company, not between the shipper and the port terminal facility, the shipper may meet its obligation under the SOLAS regulations by submitting the verified gross mass to the shipping company. It is then the responsibility of the shipping company to provide information regarding the verified gross mass of the packed container to the terminal representative in advance of the ship loading. Similarly, the shipper may also submit the verified gross mass to the port terminal facility representative upon delivery of the container to the port facility in advance of loading".

MSC.1/Circ. 1475, Annex, p5.

(4) UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch, report on the investigation of the structural failure of MSC Napoli English Channel on January 18 2007, Report 9/2008, April 2008, p45, available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/547c703ced915d4c0d000087/NapoliReport.pdf.

(5) MSC.380 (94).

(6) MSC.1/Circ. 1475.

(7) Article 3 of Ministry of Transportation Resolution 2793.

(8) Article 8 of Ministry of Transportation, Resolution 2793.

(9) Article 9 Ministry of Transportation, Resolution 2793.

(10) Article 10 of Ministry of Transportation, Resolution 2793.

(11) Article 10 of Ministry of Transportation, Resolution 2793.

(12) MSC.1/Circ. 1475, Annex, p 7.

This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.