Shippers of bulk commodities face fresh challenges as a result of the amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Regulation VI/2.

As the effective date for the amendment to SOLAS Regulation VI/2 fast approaches (1 July 2016), shippers will face increasing pressure to ensure that the correct systems and equipment are in place to comply with their new responsibilities to verify the gross mass of packed containers.

This article examines the obligations that the amendment will impose in particular on shippers of bulk commodities.

Background

As we have previously reported, the amendment to SOLAS makes shippers responsible for obtaining and documenting the verified gross mass of a packed container and reporting it to the owner or master of the vessel it is to be loaded on (i.e. the shipping line). Should the shipper fail to provide a verified gross mass, the cargo cannot be loaded. Moreover, if the verified gross mass proves to be incorrect, the shipper faces potential commercial and regulatory penalties, including summary conviction and/or a fine in the UK.

The regulations prescribe two possible methods by which a shipper may obtain the verified gross mass of a packed container:

Method 1: weighing the packed container using calibrated and certified weighing equipment (e.g. weighbridges or load cell sensing technologies).

Method 2: weighing all packages and cargo items, including the mass of pallets, dunnage and other securing material to be packed in the container and adding the tare mass of the container to the sum of the single masses, using a certified method approved by the competent authority e.g. in the UK, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA), or its authorised body.

The IMO guidelines to the regulations expressly state that method 2 is an impractical and inappropriate means of verifying weight for shippers of bulk commodities. Therefore, shippers of bulk commodities must follow method 1 to verify the gross mass of cargo before the cargo can be loaded on board. Shippers are therefore responsible for physically weighing the bulk cargo - depending on the shipper’s access to the required equipment, this is a potentially onerous obligation indeed. The recently published MCA guidance on UK implementation does however refer to establishing the weight of cargo under Method 2 for bulk products with the weight obtained from the production process, by metering through calibrated filling devices or again by physically weighing the product.

Weighing it all up

Shippers of bulk commodities will need to be sure that they either have their own, or have access to, “calibrated and certified equipment” to be able to physically weigh bulk cargo. In the UK, the MCA’s guidelines on the regulations define “calibrated and certified equipment” as “a scale, weighbridge, lifting equipment or any other device, capable of determining the actual gross mass of a packed container or of packages and cargo items, pallets, dunnage and other packing and securing material, that meets the accuracy standards and requirements of the State in which the equipment is being used”1. If the equipment is being used in the UK, there are specific regulations that govern the standards of equipment. For example, the common standard for weighbridges is BSEN 455012.

Before 1 July 2016, shippers of bulk commodities will therefore need to check the standard of equipment already owned, or their access to suitable equipment. Shippers should note that it is the responsibility of the weighing instrument operator to ensure that the equipment has a documented procedure for maintenance, calibration and testing. Associated records must also be kept verifying the standards of the equipment. If the shipper is the weighing instrument operator, the shipper must make sure that these systems are in place.

Strategies for the future

The obligation on shippers of bulk commodities to verify the weight of the gross mass of containers of bulk cargo before they are loaded, and to communicate this information promptly to the shipping line or terminal operator, will be particularly onerous on those shippers that do not have access to adequate infrastructure, particularly those outside terminals. The Asian Shippers’ Council has already recognised that many countries are not equipped for shippers to adapt to the changes in the regulations. It is therefore likely that in the coming years, the market’s need for practical solutions will spark new technologies to deal with shippers’ demands. The change in shippers’ obligations may also lead to increased overall costs as shippers are forced comply with the regulations.