Oct 3, 2013

Shippers vehemently protest measurement of container weight under SOLAS

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) recently held the 18th session of the Sub-Committee on Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes and Containers (DSC18), where the proposed amendment on the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) was adopted, thereby making it mandatory for shippers to inspect the weight of their containers prior to loading on ships. The proposed new regulation on the verification of the gross weight of containers has long been pushed for adoption by the World Shipping Council (WSC) and multiple other shipping groups and with its adoption by the sub-committee, it will now be submitted to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) for deliberation. But the shippers' groups are strongly objecting to this move. In a statement it has released about the matter, the Asian Shippers' Council (ASC) pointed out that, "They are completely disregarding the condition of the shippers and have not analyzed the problem pertaining to the excessive loading of containers, nor considered alternative solutions."

The above proposed amendment will require the shippers to declare the weight of their containers prior to ship loading at the loading ports. With this, Section 6-2 of the SOLAS will add new provisions that will require the measurement of the weight of containerized cargoes, the inputting of such measurements into the shipping documents and the prohibition of ship loading if the weight of the containers is not clear.

There will be two ways to check the weight of cargoes - by measuring the gross weight of the containerized cargoes that have undergone vanning with the use of the designated tools which have been approved and by adding the weight of the empty containers to the total weight of the cargoes to be loaded. In RORO ship-based transport in international nearseas trade routes, however, this regulation is exempted when the containers are loaded in chassis and trailers and then loaded onto or unloaded from the ships.

The creation of the legal framework of the requirement of verifying container weight prior to ship loading has been asked from the IMO by the WSC, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) and other maritime groups. In reality, the loading of excessive containers onto ships has led to various incidents and accidents, including schedule delays, damage on the ship hull/chassis, casualty among port workers and rollover accidents involving land transport containers. According to a survey conducted by the WSC and ICS, there have been cases when the excessive loading of containers has reached 10% of the total cargoes, depending on the trade route, while the total real weight of cargoes loaded onto ships exceed the declared weight by 3-7%.

The verification of weight prior to cargo loading is being done in the U.S. and some other ports, so the IAPH stressed that, "There is track record that the measurement system meets the technological and commercial standards. It should thus be turned into the global standard for safety." With regard to the adoption of the amendment at the DSC18, the above official claimed that, "Even if the amendment is adopted at the IMO after succeeding deliberations, we project that its enforcement as an actual regulation would only happen in 2017 at the earliest. Now we have enough time to comply."

On the other hand, the shippers are reacting sharply against the said move. After the adoption of the draft at the DSC18, the ASC commented that, "The opinions of the ASC and the European Shippers' Council (ESC), which account for 75% of the total shippers worldwide, had absolutely nothing to do with the adoption of the proposed amendment. They also did not take into account the impact that 100% weight verification prior to cargo loading will have on suppliers, so they failed with this regulation." In particular, Asia houses shippers with a wide range of business scales and the level of maturity of its markets varies, so the ASC pointed out that even if the weight verification of all cargoes is signed into law, it will still be unable to manifest positive results. Further, in the case of Pusan, Singapore and Hong Kong where large volumes of cargoes are handled daily, a majority of which are transshipped, there is concern that delays in cargoes will have an enormous impact on the operation of terminals.

The ASC also emphasized the unfair burdens. Claiming that the burden will be biggest for shippers under the draft regulation, the above official said that, "The operators will not shoulder the responsibility at all. If the operators and terminals cooperate, then we will be able to hammer out more effective solutions."

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