By Gavin van Marle

Shippers, forwarders, shipping lines and container terminals “urgently” need to begin discussions over the practicalities of implementing the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) new regulation on container weights. That was one of the chief conclusions of the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association (ICHCA) seminar on container weighing held on September 11 in London, with some delegates warning that the legislation, due on 1 July 2016, could lead to chaos.

The new requirements, formally an amendment to the IMO’s existing Safety of Life at Sea (Solas) regulations, have been designed to reduce the number of accidents globally caused by containers whose weights have been misdeclared by shippers and their agents. The new law says they must verify the weight declared on the Bill of Lading. It has been criticized as difficult to enforce, while many sea freight buyers are said to be completely unaware of the legislation.

From next summer, shippers will have to prove the weight of their containers through one of two methods: weighing the loaded container (Method 1); or weighing the cargo and adding the tare weight of the container (Method 2). Richard Brough, ICHCA technical advisor, said: “There is no exemption from weighing in some form – if you are a Method 2 shipper, you will still have to weigh the cargo, the calculation aspect comes from adding the cargo weight with the tare weight of the container.”

Washington-based liner shipping lobby group the World Shipping Council (WSC) was one of the proponents of the new legislation. It initially insisted on Method 1, but later acquiesced to shipper arguments, led by the Global Shippers Forum, that Method 2 would provide the same level of assurance to ships’ masters, ultimately be responsible for accepting or rejecting containers waiting to be loaded. However, it will remain up to national jurisdictions to decide if they will accept both methods, and WSC Senior Vice-President Lars Kjaer said the U.S. had already decided it will only accept Method 1 as proof of the verified gross mass (VGM) of a container.

“But, come 1 July next year, there will be containers showing up at the gate without signed verification forms – so how do we manage that? What do we do with those boxes? The whole operational side needs to be discussed and sorted out,” he said.

In contrast, the UK’s enforcement body, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA), has said it will accept Method 2, and has begun developing an accreditation scheme for UK shippers in concert with the Freight Transport Association (FTA).

MCA hazardous cargo advisor Keith Bradley said it was “essential that we make Method 2 work”, as with the right process it could be much more efficient. “Many members involved in the UK’s maritime trade are already operating to a variety of standards, such as AEO or ISO9000, and many companies have enterprise resource systems (ERPs) such as SAP that means they will know the weight of their cargo.

“We have also had a very clear message from the port industry that it does not have the weighing equipment, nor does it want to invest in it. But ports have to consider what they are going to do if a box arrives at the port without a VGM,” he said.

UK shippers will need to apply for accreditation to Method 2, with the MCA set to audit applications. FTA director of global and European Policy, Chris Welsh, said the organization would be launching a service to help its members with applying for accreditation.

However, John Foord, President designate of the Federation of National Associations of Ship Brokers and Agents, questioned the viability of this approach, given the increasingly tight timeframe. “It will be interesting to know if the 14,000 FTA members will all be accredited by 1 July 2016… I suspect that simply can’t happen, which means lots of UK exporters will have to use weighbridges. But there isn’t a weighbridge near Felixstowe, for example, and there could be a significant deviations on road journeys to go via a weighbridge on the way to a port.

“There really could be a lot of deviation,” Mr Foord added, “and some of the shipping lines charge shippers £2 per mile. I can see shipper easily having to an extra £50-60 per container just because of this issue.”

Reprinted courtesy of The Loadstar (