How will countries enforce the new SOLAS regulation?

We are now very close to 1st July 2016 when the latest SOLAS Regulation becomes law in most maritime countries and a VGM for containers shipped by sea becomes mandatory. The reasons for the requirements of establishing the VGM [Verified Gross Mass] of containers is fully justified from a ship safety point of view. It cannot be argued that the present system works with an estimated 10% of all containers being overweight.

How well this will be implemented remains to be seen -  some container terminals claim to have put in equipment to allow the VGM to be established prior to loading [having seen this requirement as a new income stream] but it remains to be seen how this will stand up under 'commercial conditions' - that is the sheer pressure of everyday use.

For Traders who ship goods by Container the question to be considered is - What are the consequences of failing to submit a VGM?

Failing to provide a VGM includes but is not necessarily limited to the following.

  1. Where a VGM is not provided in time (that is in time to be used in preparing the carrying vessels stability calculation) the container will not be allowed to be loaded.
  2. Should a container with no submitted VGM be mistakenly loaded aboard ship, it might be that a transhipment port or the port/terminals at destination will refuse to handle it (leading to the possible delay for handling that container or the carrying vessel might be held or delayed by local authorities.
  3. Where the loading terminal adopts a 'No VGM, no gate-in' policy, a container that arrives at the gate with no VGM will not be allowed to 'gate-in'
  4. Shippers are ultimately responsible and could incur wasted transport costs if 'gate-in' is denied or be liable for demurrage costs while waiting for a VGM to be established.
  5. Should the load terminal allow a 'gate-in' without an established VGM Shippers could be liable for extra shifting/storage charges for failing to provide A VGM in time for the terminal/Carrier to finalize the stowage plan.
  6. As far as I can tell where the Shipper uses railways it seems that Rail Carriers consider that the SOLAS requirement is not their concern. If the container does not have a VGM then items 2-5 above will apply to such shipments.

The Position in Russia

Andrey Kosmachevskiy of the Russian Law Firm REMEDY [a long time member of Shiparrested.com] participated in a round table meeting where the representatives of the Russian Ministry of Transport and Russian Maritime Register of Shipping were invited. He kindly reports that:

  1. The Ministry of Transport advised participants that:
    a.  The approved organization is Russian Maritime Register of Shipping which shall:
    i. Certify the organizations which will verify the VGM
    ii. Approve the methods of weighing to verify the masses;
    iii. Approve the documents for the weighing instruments;
    iv.Certify the equipment for weighing.
    b. Harbour Master - Port State Control
    i. They may check the documents in the frames of Paris (Tokyo, Black Sea) Memorandum but are not obliged to check solely the documents confirming the VGM.
    ii.They will look just in the order of the common procedure of checking under the rules of Paris memorandum.
    c.During April 2016
    i. Ministry of Transport shall sign the agreement with the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping;
    ii.Ministry of Transport shall notify the business community about measures to be taken;
    d.During May 2016
    i.State port control procedures in the ports;
    ii During May-June 2016
    iii The Russian Maritime Register of Shipping shall certify the organisations/equipment.

2.What problems are foreseen by Ministry of Transport?

a. Whether the quantity of weighing equipment is enough?
b. The question of logistic requirements for VGM documents? (nb The VGM must be established in time for it to be used in calculating the vessels stability prior to loading the container).
c. Changes in actual VGM (after an official VGM has been established - e.g. shrinkage?)
d. Tolerance of mass? (e.g. +5% allow or not)
e. Recognition of documents from other countries?
f. Liability?
g. Role of freight-forwarder?

Andrey has kindly agreed to pass on anything that may appear from Ministry of Transport of Russia on this subject.

The Position in the USA

The best that I can offer is to refer readers to a US Coast Guard Marine Safety Information Bulletin MSIB Number: 009/16 Dated: 28 Apr 2016

"U.S. Declares an Equivalency to Regulation VI/2 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)
The Coast Guard has determined that existing U.S. laws and regulations for providing verified container weights are equivalent to the requirements in SOLAS Regulation VI/2. The Coast Guard sent to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) a letter outlining its determination that its current regulatory regime provides for other entities within the container export chain to work in combination with the shipper to determine and verify container weights, and it provides ships' masters with container weights in order to ensure ships are loaded and operated safely.

This equivalency acknowledges the dynamic and flexible business relationship between the entities in the export chain, and it provides flexibility for these entities to reach arrangements in order to ensure compliance with the SOLAS amendments that come into effect on July 1, 2016. Shippers, carriers, terminals, and maritime associations have outlined multiple acceptable methods for providing verified gross mass (VGM). A couple examples are: (1) the terminal weighs the container, and when duly authorized, verifies the VGM on behalf of the shipper, and (2) the shipper and carrier reach agreement whereby the shipper verifies the weight of the cargo, dunnage, and other securing material, and the container's tare weight is provided and verified by the carrier.

For the purposes of determining the VGM of a container, any equipment currently being used to comply with Federal or State laws, including the Intermodal Safe Container Transportation Act and the container weight requirements in 29 CFR 1918.85(b), are acceptable for the purpose of complying with SOLAS. The Coast Guard, in the normal course of vessel inspections under its flag state and port state control authorities, will continue to verify that ships’ masters receive the VGM of containers in order to ensure that ships are loaded safely and operate within their structural and stability safety limitations. For more information, please use above contact information.

This release is issued for public information and notification purposes only.

U.S. Equivalency to SOLAS Regulation VI/2

Pursuant to regulation I/5 of SOLAS, the United States has determined that the regulatory regime in the United States for providing verified weights of containers to ships Masters is equivalent to the requirements provided for by SOLAS Regulation VI/1

SOLAS regulation VI/2.5 requires the verified weight of containers to be provided and signed for by the shipper. In the United States, national regulations provide for other entities within the container export chain, in combination with the shipper, to provided and sign for the verified container weight. This provides the needed flexibility for all entities in this dynamic business to work together to ensure ship's Masters are provided accurate verified container weights, as required by SOLAS VI/2, to enable them to make certain the ship is loaded safely and will operate in accordance with structural and stability limits as required by SOLAS Chapter II-1 and Chapter IX.

The United States Coast Guard, as a Flag State and Port State authority, will continue to ensure that Masters of ships loading containers in the United States are provided accurate container weights as required by SOLAS VI/2.

Comment

There is some doubt that the USCG has really got its act together. According to an article in American Shipper (February 2016) The USCG said it has sent a letter to the International Maritime Organization outlining its determination that its current regulatory regime provides for other entities within the container export chain to work in combination with the shipper to determine and verify container weights, and it provides ship's masters with container weights in order to ensure ships are loaded and operated safely.

The article went on to say:

"The Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC) noted that the South Carolina Ports Authority has supported the first of those examples -- of allowing shippers to use container terminal scales to comply with the SOLAS verified gross mass (VGM) requirement.
AgTC has also been pushing carriers to accept that second approach, resisting a best practice outlined by the Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association (OCEMA), a group of 19 carriers, requiring the shipper add the tare weight of the containers. On Wednesday OCEMA said that shippers could rely on the tare weight printed on the container or provided using a database generated by the carrier.
AgTC said the Coast Guard bulletin "means that responsibility to submit VGM is NOT entirely on the shipper and the OCEMA/carrier 'Best Practices- Method 1 and 2' are NOT the only means of compliance. Most importantly, it frees individual ocean carriers to develop, in concert with their customers, means of compliance that make economic and operational sense for both. Today's Coast Guard action permits, but does not require carriers to act independently in their own interests, however the AgTC strongly encourages them to do so, and remains available to facilitate such dialogue."
For the purposes of determining the VGM of a container, any equipment currently being used to comply with Federal or State laws, including the Intermodal Safe Container Transportation Act and the container weight requirements in 29 CFR 1918.85(b), are acceptable for the purpose of complying with SOLAS the Coast Guard added.
Peter Friedmann, the executive director of the AgTC said he was pleased with the Coast Guard bulletin and equivalency letter to the IMO, feeling it will influence other countries and how they approach compliance with the VGM regulation.
It will restore sanity," he said. The Coast Guard “has cleared the way for individual carriers to work with their customers, to save both the carriers and shippers millions of dollars of cost and burden, delay and disruption, software system rewriting, etc., through a rational means of SOLAS compliance.
John Butler, president and chief executive officer of the World Shipping Council, the primary trade association for the container shipping industry said "The Coast Guard's statement last night about the SOLAS requirement that packed containers must have a verified gross mass before being loaded on a ship reiterates the fact that there are multiple methods for obtaining that total weight number. That is consistent with the Coast Guard's prior statements and does not break any new ground."
"What is of interest is the Coast Guard's statement that container weighing equipment being used today to meet other regulatory requirements is acceptable for SOLAS purposes. That statement may trigger some further consideration by terminal operators about their policies on providing SOLAS-compliant container weights using their existing scales," he said.

The Position in the UK

The relevant authority is the Maritime & Coastguard Agency ('MCA'). I understand that a list of accredited shippers has been started but I am unable to find any details on this. The MCA has been stated to be a world leader on this problem.

A contact of mine in the logistics world has advised that terminal operators DP World are fitting load cells to all their straddle carries and therefore the Southampton and London Gateway Container terminals will be recording the weight of all export containers and this information will be available to the MCA.

Containers arriving with a Verified Gross Mass declared will still be weighed and a charge will be levied for weighing containers that do not arrive with a Verified Gross Weight. This will be charged out via the Shipping Line with the likelihood that each Shipping Line will charge slightly different amounts. He estimates that this will be in the region of £20 to £30 per container. Container Terminals/Ports that offer the facility to weigh containers on arrival will be offering a solution to Shippers.

What this will probably not do is give the Shipowner/Master sight of the correct weights as early as they would want to prepare the stability calculation. However, as my contact points out, the information the Shipowner/Master receives now is not 100% accurate, and anything would be an improvement on the current situation.

Recommendation

My recommendation would be for all Buyers to request shippers to provide a VGM Certificate, as one of the listed shipping documents. Suggested wording: "SHIPPERS TO PROVIDE A COPY OF THE VALID VGM CERTIFICATE PROVIDED TO THE TERMINAL /SHIPPING LINE TO ENSURE COMPLIANCE WITH ALL SOLAS REGULATIONS".

Remember that under SOLAS, Shippers remain liable/responsible to provide this Certificate. Containers at sea without this Cert may have problems at transshipment so points or at destination.

Conclusion

Time will tell how as to how rigorously each nation will implement and, more importantly, enforce the new regulation. We shall soon see how it will work in practice with regard to inspections and the reporting of containers that do not have a VGM on arrival at the loading terminal  and the sanctions that will be applied.

I repeat that it is the Shipper who is ultimately responsible for providing VGM data while a Master would be in breach of SOLAS requirements if he loads a container without a VGM. The terminal operator must also have a duty not to load non-conforming containers (i.e. containers with no established VGM). Some commentators have intimated that Compliance will be a shared responsibility but while communication between all the different parties will be critical it must be that the Shipper bears the ultimate liability for this problem.

Just what will happen on 1 July - when it is fully expected that large numbers of containers will show up without any VGM certification - remains to be seen. The usual response of the trade may be to try and use a Letter of Indemnity (LOI) or some similar kind of security to get around this problem. This cannot be recommended as it may prejudice both P&I Cover and render cargo insurance invalid.

I trust that this round-up assists. As the Chinese say "may you live in interesting times".

Republished with permission of the author, Richard Faint, Charterwise