Verified Gross Mass

Introduction

In the interests of ship safety, a carrying ship should be advised of the actual weight of any container to be loaded and carried by sea. It is necessary to properly calculate a vessel's stability and the stresses imposed on the ship when the weights loaded are unknown. This necessity has arisen post maritime disaster such as the well known case of the MV Napoli which overturned off the South Coast of England with container weights substantially higher than what was actually declared.

As things stand, it is possible that up to 20% of containers loaded are overweight!

History of the steps leading up to SOLAS VI Regulation 2 amendment.

In 2010 The World Shipping Council (WSC) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) issued a joint statement to explain the problem with misdeclared container weights.

In 2011 the WSC and the ICS submitted a formal proposal to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to issue a regulation making it mandatory for packed containers to be weighed as a (pre) condition for being stowed aboard ships.

In June 2012, Denmark, The Netherlands, and then USA along with a group of 5 maritime industry associations lead by the WSC, co-sponsored a formal proposal to the IMO to amend the SOLAS convention to require the weight of all packed containers be verified prior to loading onboard a vessel for export.

On November 21, 2014, the IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 94) officially adopted the new SOLAS requirement that as a condition for vessel loading, the weight of a packed export container be verified by the shipper using either of the two permissible methods.

The UK has adopted this Regulation into domestic law. As such, from 1 July 2016 it will be a requirement of English law that: all packed shipping containers must be accompanied by a shipping document that lists the Verified Gross Mass [VGM] of a container before it can be loaded onto ships operated by flag states that are party to SOLAS. It should be applied globally.

Checklist

  1. From 1 July 2016 a VGM of a container intended for export has to be declared to the Vessel Operator and Marine Terminal Operator.
  2. Failure by the Shipper to provide the VGM to the Vessel Operator and Marine Terminal Operator would be a violation of SOLAS regulations.
  3. SOLAS requirements will be enforced by the State. Any incidents of non-compliance will be dealt with in accordance with national legislation.
  4. The ultimate sanction for a failure to provide a VGM in time for it to be used in the ship stowage plan could result in the container being refused by the ship with any costs associated with the non-loading, storage, demurrage or eventual return of the container to the Shipper. The Buyer will not have to pay for those documents.
  5. SOLAS makes the Shipper ultimately responsible for the provision of the VGM to the Vessel Operator and Marine Terminal Operator prior to the actual loading operation and in time for a ship stability programme to be calculated.
  6. The MSC Guidelines make it clear that it is a Master's decision whether to stow a packed container , and refers to this being done in conformance with the Code of Safe Practice for Cargo Stowage and Securing.
  7. A Shipper is required to provide this verification using one of two methods:

Method 1.

Weighing a container prior to loading it on board a ship is SOLAS's requirement. THERE IS NO EXCEPTION TO THIS REQUIREMENT. However, a Shipper can probably use established Inspection companies for weighing his cargo.

Method 2.

The Shipper should weigh all of the cargo and contents of the container including dunnage, packaging and securing materials, packed into the container, and add those weights to the container's tare weight as indicated on the door of the container.

  • The IMO Guidelines provide that Method 2 would be inappropriate and impractical for certain types of cargo items (e.g., scrap metal, un-bagged grain, and other cargo in bulk) that do not easily lend themselves to individual weighing of the items to be packed in the container.
  • Estimating weight is not permitted. The shipper (or a third party appointed by the Shipper) has a responsibility to weigh the packed container or its contents.

8. Equipment for establishing VGM:
8.1 The scale, weighbridge, lifting equipment or other devices used to verify the gross mass of the container, in accordance with either Method No.1 n or Method No.2 discussed above, should meet the applicable accuracy standards and requirements of the State in which the equipment is being used.

In other words, the equipment must meet National Certification and Calibration Requirements. In the UK public weighbridges are controlled by local Trading Standards Offices.

This may pose a problem for logistic companies that have their own weighbridges that are not controlled by Trading Standards Offices.

9. MSC.1/Circ.1475 Annex, page 5 para. 5.1.2.1 forbids using a weight provided by another party with the following exception:
Individual, original sealed packages that have the accurate mass of the packages and cargo items (including any other material such as packing material and refrigerants inside the packages) clearly and permanently marked on their surfaces, do not need to be weighed again when they are packed into the container.

NB. This should not be confused with estimating weight, which is not permitted under any circumstances.

10. Documentation
SOLAS requires the Shipper to communicate (i.e. pass) the VGM in a document, which can be part of the shipping instructions to the shipping company or a separate communication (e.g. a declaration including a weight certificate produced by a weigh station by mean of calibrated and certified equipment on the route between the Shipper's origin and the Port Terminal).

11. Signed Verification
Regardless of its form, the VGM must be signed by a person duly authorised by the Shipper. It may be an electronic signature, or may be replaced by the name of the person IN CAPITALS authorised to sign it.

It is not clear how this authorisation is to be set up, or how the Government Agency [in the UK this will be the MCA] will register and control these duly authorised persons.

This SOLAS requirement places the responsibility on the Shipper, and relieves the Ship Operator from verifying the weight provided by the Shipper.

12. The lack of a VGM signed by an authorised person can be remedied by weighing the packed container at the port.

Under SOLAS, absence of VGM prevents the container to be loaded on to the ship. Therefore, it is clear whether weighing the container at the port would breach the SOLAS's requirement to provide VGM prior to delivering the container at the Port Terminal.

13. At the end of the day, the Shipper will be responsible for any costs arising out of any failure to meet these SOLAS requirements:

  • weighing , repacking and administrative costs;
  • possible penalties set down by each separate State.

Conclusions
So big issues arise from the implementation of these SOLAS requirements on VGM and they come into effect on 1 July 2016 ! GTL will be carefully monitoring this issue in the count down to this date and reporting to you further. In the interim any queries from our readers let us know and we will report back to you.

By Patrick Battersby, Non-Executive Director, GTL365 and Director Davies Battersby Solicitors