The SOLAS amendment coming into force on 1st July 2016 requires, as a condition for loading a packed container onto a ship for export, that the container has a verified gross mass (‘VGM’). As from 1st July 2016, it would be a violation of SOLAS to load a packed container onto a ship if the ship operator and marine terminal operator do not have the VGM of the container. All 163 Signatory States to SOLAS will need to implement this SOLAS amendment through their national legislation.
With the entry into force date just over two months away, some terminals and shippers still seem unprepared or even unaware of this SOLAS amendment. Unless practical steps have been or are being taken to address the requirements brought in by this amendment, UK P&I Club warns that chaos and commercial disputes can be expected after 1st July 2016.
This SOLAS amendment is intended to address the problem of variability in cargo weight declarations and its potential impact on the safe stowage, securing and carriage of these containers. In practice, a failure to comply will likely result in fines and penalties but it may also result in delays, disruptions to loading procedures and potential loss of business for carriers.
The responsibility for obtaining and communicating the VGM of a packed container lies with the shipper. The VGM declared has to be signed off by a person duly authorized by the shipper. No separate obligation is imposed on the carrier or the terminal operator to check the VGM declared. However, as a condition for loading, the carrier and the terminal must ensure that every container on the ship’s stowage plan has a properly declared VGM.
Two methods are prescribed for the shipper to obtain the VGM of a packed container: Method 1: weighing the packed container, and Method 2: weighing all cargo items, including pallets, dunnage and other securing and packing material in the container and then adding to these the tare mass of the container. The VGM under both Methods 1 and 2, must be obtained using calibrated and certified weighing equipment that complies with the accuracy standards of the jurisdiction in which the equipment is used.
UK P&I Club have highlighted some steps which Members should consider taking ahead of the deadline:
•Check that their shippers are aware of their obligations under this SOLAS amendment, and if necessary to explain the obligations to them
•Review their service contracts and carriers’ standard terms of carriage to address the additional issues brought in by this amendment
•Review their terminal contracts or agree terms and procedures with terminals for dealing with just in time containers and containers with discrepant VGM declarations