FMC Threatens Action Against Carriers Over VGM

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By The Maritime Executive 06-19-2016 12:32:22

With only two weeks remaining until the implementation deadline for SOLAS verified gross mass (VGM) weighing for shipping containers, the Federal Maritime Commission has threatened action against any ocean carrier unable to find a way to "embrace the obvious solution to achieving compliance that Marine Terminal Operators can offer." 

The U.S. Coast Guard has ruled that any container weights obtained using existing equipment and standards for purposes of complying with existing U.S. laws will also be sufficient for VGM purposes. While the shipper is ultimately responsible for provision of the VGM under SOLAS, the Coast Guard sees "multiple acceptable methods" for weighing a container that adapt to the "dynamic and flexible" relationships among shippers, carriers, freight forwarders and terminals. 

Commission chairman Mario Cordero said Thursday that the weight of export containers can and should be possible to determine using the Coast Guard standard, and questioned why any (unnamed) carriers would have an interest in setting a conflicting policy. 

"There is a course to SOLAS VGM compliance provided by the Coast Guard that is not only not burdensome, it requires no additional action at all. Why anyone would add procedures, requirements and costs to doing business is not only puzzling, it raises the specter of anticompetitive behavior necessitating Commission action," said Cordero. 

"The Coast Guard has made it clear that the existing methods and procedures for tendering export cargo and declaring container weights are already in compliance with what was mandated via the International Maritime Organization’s amendment to SOLAS," said Cordero. "While I certainly applaud efforts to make the maritime transportation of cargo safer, I am increasingly struggling to fathom why the ocean carrier community has not fully embraced the equivalency declaration as a way to demonstrate flexibility and sensitivity to our U.S.-export shippers."

Different nations have taken widely differing approaches to VGM implementation. Hong Kong, the U.K. and Japan have set a maximum tolerance of five percent between the VGM weight of a container and its true weight; India specifies a plus-minus 200kg tolerance; Vietnam has not published a final rule but is said to be contemplating a requirement for at-terminal weighing, on top of a shipper-provided VGM. The U.S. specifies no particular tolerance value.