Increased mis-declaration of container weights resulting in casualties to vessels, crew members and stevedores, and damage to vessels lifting equipment has resulted in the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (“SOLAS”) requirements regarding the verified gross mass ("VGM") of a container carrying cargo to become enforceable in South Africa from 1 July 2016.

Marine Notice number 18 of 2016, issued by the South African Maritime Safety Authority ("SAMSA"), issues guidelines for South Africa's mandatory implementation of the SOLAS requirements regarding the verification of gross mass of pack containers carrying cargo. A copy of the notice can be found on our website at www.wylie.co.za under “Legal Notices” for 22 April 2016.

SOLAS places the responsibility on shippers, as defined in Marine Notice number 18, to provide the VGM of a container to the carrier or their terminal representative, regardless of who packs the container. In order to ensure the continual flow of cargo, it is essential that information be provided to the relevant parties timeously. This will avoid potential delays and congestion in the port as the VGM should be used in preparation of a vessels loading plan.

A container includes, inter alia, tank containers, flat racks and bulk containers. SOLAS prescribes two methods by which the shipper may obtain the VGM of a packed container, which are as follows:

  1. Weighing the container after it has been packed and sealed;
  2. Weighing the cargo of the container, including packaging and dunnage (securing) materials and the tare weight of the container. This method is subject to certification and approval.

The containers must be weighed using accurate weighing equipment that is accredited by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications and South African National Accreditation System.

Any discrepancy between a packed container's gross mass and its verified gross mass should be resolved by use of the VGM. A container that exceeds its maximum permitted gross mass may not be loaded onto a vessel. The same applies in circumstances where a container is delivered to a port terminal without the shipper providing the VGM of the container. Ultimately, the master of the vessel should not accept cargo on board unless he is satisfied that it can be safely transported.

The SOLAS requirements will be enforced by SAMSA through port state control inspections, ad hoc inspections, continuous auditing of SAMSA appointed third parties and reporting of non-conforming containers and / or cargo information by third parties.

If SAMSA or one of the appointed third parties identifies that a shipper has mis-declared the gross mass of a packed container, SAMSA may:

  1. Require that the appointed third party to suspend or revoke the shipper's approval and the shipper will have to use the first method (weighing the container after it has been packed and sealed) in order to verify the VGM;
  2. Require an admission of Contravention to be signed and paid, failing which, the alleged contravention will be prosecuted.