Monday, 22 February 2016

UK Exporters, are you ready for SOLAS container weighing regulations (which becomes law Jul 1st?)

On July 1st 2016, the International Maritime Organization SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) regulations come into effect globally, which will mean that all exporters across the world shipping full containers, will by law need to provide a verified gross mass (VGM) declaration for every container prior to loading onto a vessel.

Why the change? Well the fact is that until now, a shipper could under-declare the weight to avoid overweight surcharges, be they road or shipping line related, and many unscrupulous and irresponsible exporters have been doing this - and it has led to some tragic outcomes with vessels inexplicably sinking in heavy weather, when they were well within their ocean going limits.

Perhaps the most high profile loss in the last decade was that of MSC Napoli, which ran aground off the UK coast in 2007. Investigators found that of the 660 containers stowed on deck that remained dry, 137 were overweight by more than three tonnes each. The biggest difference was 20 tonnes, and the total weight of those containers was 312 tonnes heavier than declared on the cargo manifest.
It has also been calculated that 20% of the 130 million containers shipped globally are mis-declared in their weight, a huge number, and clearly a major cause for concern.
The new SOLAS rules are a response to this, however they present quite a challenge as they mean that exporters are now legally liable for an accurate declaration and they may need to need to ensure they have accurate on-site weighing equipment prior to the container being sealed and sent off to the port.

It isn't necessary that the exporter has to weigh the complete container on site which would in any case make for quite a complicated process - they can actually weigh all the product which is loaded and then add on the "tare" or empty weight of the container to arrive at the VGM.

Here's some useful advice from BIFA on the process.
There is also the possibility that ports themselves may step in and offer to weigh the containers (for a fee of course) prior to loading and this may indeed be the best and most cost effective solution although of course it means that the exporter doesn't actually weigh the container and would they want to be held legally accountable for any mistakes?

To this end, one port operator, DP World which manages both London Gateway and Southampton have offered to provide this service and I think it's likely that other ports may follow.,NEQO,33BZZU,1ITL9,1
Overnight, we have seen this report from the US which seems they are in a state of disarray, where shippers are pushing for a delay of upto 1 year with implementation. The US Coastguard have said, after Jul 1, they will not levy fines on US exporters who fail to declare a VGM (Verified Gross Mass) although the shipping lines and terminals will not be able to load a container unless they have a VGM. Seems very confusing US side!
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Andy Cliff is an industry professional who launched his own logistics consultancy, Straightforward Consultancy Ltd (SCL) after a 30 year career in international logistics, working for companies such as DB Schenker, Kuehne & Nagel and DHL Global Forwarding in operational, sales and management roles. 
Andy felt that in an increasingly complex and confusing world of logistics, small-medium sized UK importers and exporters needed a company alongside them which could help them to reduce costs, lessen their workload and provide expert advice and support day-to-day. Andy was part of the  judging panel for the 2015 Global Freight Awards, which recognize quality, innovation and performance in the field of international logistics.