The International Maritime Organization (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

Part 3 of 3 – Port Terminals

The new rule will come into force on 1 July 2016 and will apply globally. In a series of three articles,Elizabeth Turnbull and Marcia Perucca look at how the industry is preparing for the change.

In the first article of the series they looked at the obligations placed on shippers. In the second article, they considered the implications for carriers. In this third and final article, they highlight the impact on port terminals.

No VGM, no loading

The SOLAS amendment provides that no container without a verified gross mass (VGM) can be loaded on board a ship. Terminals will, therefore, have the responsibility to make sure this is complied with at all times.

Before the container arrives at the terminal, communication between the parties will be key to ensuring compliance. As the shipper is able to meet its obligation under SOLAS by submitting the VGM to the shipping line, terminal operators should make sure their contracts with shipping lines include a clause which makes certain that this information is provided before or by the time the container is delivered to the terminal.

Many terminals around the world have started putting procedures in place. The port of Barcelona, for example, which receives on average 1,700 packed containers daily, was the first in Spain to develop a documentary package establishing the procedure for electronic communication of VGMs. This includes the documentary forms necessary to transmit the VGM from the shipper to the consignee, and from there on to the terminal.

Most importantly, terminal operators will need to consider procedures for when a container arrives at the terminal without a VGM.

Weighing facilities

Despite the fact that the responsibility for providing a VGM is placed on the shipper, the message given by the IMO is that all parties involved should work together towards compliance. This is clear from the wording of the IMO Guidelines:

"Notwithstanding that the shipper is responsible for obtaining and documenting the verified gross mass of a packed container, situations may occur where a packed container is delivered to a port terminal facility without the shipper having provided the required verified mass of the container. Such a container should not be loaded onto the ship until its verified gross mass is obtained. In order to allow the continued efficient onward movement of such containers, the master or his representative and the terminal representative may obtain the verified gross mass of the packed container on behalf of the shipper. This may be done by weighing the packed container in the terminal or elsewhere. The verified gross mass so obtained should be used in the preparation of the ship loading plan. Whether and how to do this should be agreed between the commercial parties, including the apportionment of the costs involved."

If there are no weighing facilities at the terminal, there are likely to be additional costs for the terminal operator should the containers and their cargo remain at the terminal. Any contracts that terminal operators have with shippers or, most likely, shipping lines, should determine who is responsible for these costs.

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 that they would offer weighing facilities. APM Terminals, which operates over 70 port facilities around the world, is working to determine which of its terminals are suitable for offering container-weighing services.

This requires an assessment of the available technologies, the practicalities of providing such a service and the commercial and legal considerations.

Where the VGM has been provided by the shipper or passed on to the terminal by the carrier, the terminal operator may rely on it and is not obliged to check the shipper's VGM. However, if the terminal operator establishes a VGM which differs from that declared by the shipper, the terminal operator's VGM should prevail.

Whether a terminal decides to offer new services or just put in place procedures that will enable compliance with the regulation, it will require reviewing the adequacy of existing terminal service agreements, haulage agreements and standard terms of business.

Overall, the amount of preparation already carried out by all the parties in the supply chain, both in terms of logistical arrangements and of review of operating terms, which should be finalised in the next few weeks, will determine how successful or how disruptive the implementation of the new SOLAS amendment will be.