The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has amended the SOLAS (the Safety of Life at Sea) regulations to require that container weights must be verified prior to loading.
The regulation will go into effect on July 1, 2016 when it will be a violation to load a packed container on to a vessel if the operator and marine terminal do not have a verified container weight.
The new SOLAS amendment is applicable for all 171 IMO member countries as well as the three associate members. Every country will appoint a “competent agency” that is responsible to monitor compliance with the rules, perform checks and take legal measures as necessary.
The SOLAS amendment was introduced to increase the safety of container vessels, improve vessel stability and reduce the incidence of collapsing container stacks. With an estimated 10% of containers noting an incorrect weight, the regulation is of particular importance for vessel operators as well as to avoid potential environmental damage.
The regulation clearly stipulates that the shipper is responsible, being further defined as the shipper noted on the Bill of Lading (BOL). Since this can also be the freight forwarder, clear agreements as to the responsibility should be made between the parties involved. In the case of a consolidation, only the consolidator, which is not the original shipper, is in the position to provide the final weight.
If a verified weight is not provided to the carrier and terminal operator, the container cannot be loaded. There is still some discussion as to whether port facilities should also have weighing equipment to handle containers that do not have a correct weight, however; this will require an additional investment from the ports.
There are 2 methods to weigh containers in the regulation:
Method 1: Weigh the stuffed container using calibrated and certified equipment at any location decided by the shipper.
Method 2: Weigh all packages and cargo items; including pallets, dunnage and other securing material to be packed in the container; and add the “tare” weight of the container to the sum of the individual weights using a certified method. It is expected that most shippers will take advantage of the second option.
Although the calculation method needs to be certified by a “national competent authority”, requirements can vary per country which could lead to discrepancies. Several European federations have created guidelines to help standardize processes and address potential inconsistencies.
The best way to avoid errors is for the shipper or freight forwarder/consolidator to transmit the information electronically to the carriers. This data can in turn be further forwarded to the terminal operator.