The July 1, 2016 deadline to implement new international rules on shipping container weighing is rapidly approaching. Shippers, forwarders, 3PLs, terminal operators and ocean carriers are looking for guidance from the agency in charge of enforcement, the U. S. Coast Guard, on how they need to comply with the new rules.
The container weighing regulation was adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as an amendment to the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS treaty). While the U.S. is one of the signers to the SOLAS treaty, the Coast Guard maintains that the international accord does not grant them the domestic authority to regulate shippers of domestic business entities in the U. S., or to regulate ships that are flagged by countries other than the United States. Further, the Coast guard does not intend to pursue any agency rulemakings that could expand its authority to regulate container weights.
The end result of the Coast Guards inaction will mean that the industry will likely be required to shoulder the burden of implementing the rules of the treaty. Many questions remain between industry stakeholders about serious issues under the container weighing rules such as:
- Are the container tare weights listed on the sides of containers acceptable for use in determining verified gross mass (VGM)?
- Is there an acceptable variance in the VGM, perhaps 5 percent, to accommodate differences in equipment calibration?
- Will ports and terminal operators commit to allowing containers onto their property even if the container does not have a VGM?
- If a container without VGM is on port or terminal property, who bears the responsibility for obtaining a VGM and to what facilities can they take the container to determine the VGM?
- Will technical specifications that are required for transmitting VGM data, and the timelines for submitting that data, be standardized?
Unlike the U.S. Coast Guard, other regulatory agencies worldwide have taken action. Japan has released draft guidelines for shippers and Transport Canada announced they would likely waive penalties for the first months as the industry adjusts to the new rule.
The basic principle of the new container weighing rules is that no shipping container can be loaded onto cargo ships for export without a VGM that has been supplied to the ocean carrier in time to be used in load planning. The weight may be determined in two ways:
- Verifying the mass of each item packed into the container, including packaging, verifying the weight of the container itself, and then adding the two weights together, or
- Verifying the mass of the loaded container as we whole.
Estimated weights will not be permitted, and the company who appears on the bill of lading must provide the weight of the packed container. These requirements will be specific to packed export containers that are to be loaded onto any ship in international maritime traffic, with limited exceptions. The rules will not apply to containers on chassis or trailers that are driven on a ro-ro ship for short international voyages, or to cargo items tendered by a shipper to the master for packing onto a container already onboard a ship.
Because of the potential risk of having containers go unloaded and due to the lack of clear guidance from the Coast Guard, it is important that shippers protect themselves by ensuring that they have access to facilities to weight their cargo and containers in a timely manner and that they communicate with their ocean carriers regarding how to best share VGM documentation.
The World Shipping Council published an Industry FAQ’s document in December 2015. You can access it at http://www.worldshipping.org/industry-issues/safety/faqs.
Make sure your company is prepared.