By Karen Kancens

-Submitted by Shipping Federation of Canada

Questions related to the who, what, where, when and how of weighing loaded containers have become subjects of unprecedented interest in recent months, with answers proving to be more difficult to ascertain than one might expect. The questions arise from the new SOLAS regulation requiring shippers to provide terminals and carriers with a verified weight for each of their loaded containers, and to do so in sufficient time for this information to be used in the ship’s stowage plan. Although the shipper’s obligation to provide correct container weights is not new (and indeed, is already contained in Chapter 6 of the SOLAS Convention), the new regulation takes this obligation much further by providing two specific methods by which such weights may be obtained (either Method 1, which involves weighing the container after it has been loaded; or Method 2, which involves weighing the container’s contents before loading and adding the sum to its tare weight – with both methods to be carried out using weighing equipment that has been calibrated and certified by the competent authority). The new regulation also requires the shipper to provide a signed verification of the container’s weight, and expressly forbids containers to be loaded onto a ship unless their verified weight is available to the terminal and the ship’s master.

Countries which are signatories to the SOLAS Convention must now decide how to implement this requirement in their respective jurisdictions. Surprisingly, very few have made much progress in this respect, despite the fact that the implementation date of July 1, 2016 is fast approaching. The most notable exception is the United Kingdom, which has developed an accreditation scheme that would facilitate the use of Method 2 by shippers. Although there appears to be little appetite for a similar scheme (or a similar level of government involvement) in Canada, stakeholders are nevertheless awaiting official guidance from Transport Canada as to how the requirement will be implemented from a regulatory perspective, and whether the Department will accept Method 2 as a weighing option (barring which shippers would have to rely on Method 1 alone). Also unclear – and contributing to the lack of certainty regarding the use of Method 2 – is exactly how and where shippers currently obtain container weights, and whether the scales and measuring devices they use for doing so have been appropriately calibrated. Indeed, the question of where in the supply chain containers are weighed, where they could potentially be weighed, and whether there is a need to invest in new infrastructure or equipment, has yet to be fully answered and will be one of the keys to the new requirement’s successful implementation.

That being said, Transport Canada and the shipper community are only part of the container weighing puzzle, as terminals and carriers also have an essential role to play in working out many of the operational and commercial aspects of the new requirement. Among the issues for which greater certainty is needed are the timeframes in which container weights will have to be transmitted from the shipper to the carrier, the format in which such transmissions will occur, the degree of acceptable discrepancy between a container’s declared weight and its verified weight, and the process (and potential costs) that will come into play when a container arrives at a terminal without a verified weight or with an unacceptable discrepancy between its reported and verified weights. The Shipping Federation of Canada is working with its ocean carrier members to develop a common set of guidelines and best practices in response to these and other questions, which will then be shared and discussed with other relevant stakeholders. The ultimate goal is to ensure that by July of next year, all the parties in the supply chain have the necessary arrangements in place to ensure the timely transmission of verified container weights in a manner that does not impede the efficient flow of commerce.

This is a tall order that will require the collective energy, collaboration and commitment of everyone involved – from shippers, to freight forwarders, to the rail and highway modes, to ports and terminals, to ocean carriers – if it is to be successfully completed by next July. Time is of the essence!