Container weighing regulations may cause disturbances in the supply chain

On July 1 the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) new container weighing regulation enters into force. The IMO has amended the Safety of Life at Sea (Solas) Convention to require that a packed container’s gross weight be verified before the container can be loaded on board a ship.

Inaccurately declared container weight can cause container stacks to collapse, presenting a risk of injury to personnel, damage to equipment and to the cargo. With the new amendment, it is hoped knowing the accurate gross weight of packed containers will help vessel operators make safe stowage decisions.

The new rule will affect all the parties involved in the supply chain, but it places on the shipper the primary responsibility for obtaining the verified gross mass (VGM) of a packed container. This can be done by using one of two methods: either weighing the packed container or weighing all packages and cargo items (including the mass of pallets, dunnage and other packing and securing material to be packed in the container) and adding the tare mass, as well as using a certified method approved by a competent state authority for packing the container.

The shipper will also need to ensure the certification of the VGM for his container is signed by a person duly authorised by the shipper and submitted to the master or his representative and to the terminal representative sufficiently in advance to be used in the preparation of the stowage plan.

The Solas amendment and the IMO guidelines do not lay out specific deadlines for the shipper to submit a weight certification, leaving it to the parties in the supply chain to make their own arrangements. Carriers have been specifically advised to provide shippers with "cut-off times" within which the carrier must receive the required container weight certification from the shipper for ship stowage planning.

If the VGM is not provided by the shipper, the container cannot be loaded until the master or his representative and the terminal representative have obtained the VGM. In this sense, many terminal operators are considering or have now decided to offer a weighing service. The UK's two biggest container ports – Felixstowe and Southampton – have indicated they would offer weighing facilities. APM Terminals, which operates more than 70 port facilities around the world, is working to determine which of its terminals are suitable for offering container-weighing services.

It is unclear how prepared the parties in the supply chain will be on July 1. The International Union of Marine Insurance (Iumi) believes many are not and this is likely to affect the cargo insurance sector in the short term.

According to Iumi, lack of preparation is likely to cause disturbances in the supply chain, which in turn will increase risk exposure. Since containers without a VGM will be refused on board, there could be delays for perishable or time-sensitive cargoes. There will also be the risk associated with more containers in ports waiting to obtain a VGM. Liability underwriters may also have short-term issues with clients in the logistics sector.

Nevertheless, despite the short term implications, Iumi strongly supported the new requirement in its statement, emphasising once the amendment is fully implemented the benefits will certainly be felt.