What are the SOLAS Regulations?
On the 1st July 2016, a new legislation came into force that affected anyone exporting goods via containers.
Set out by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the ruling states that every container needs to be weighed and proof of weight provided before the goods can be legally loaded onto a ship.
Therefore, if any container is loaded onto a ship and does not have a proof of weight, it will be in violation of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS).
Why is this necessary?
Over-loaded containers have been a long standing problem that puts lives and the environment at risk.
In 2007 this drew national attention after the dramatic break up of the MSC Napoli off the southern coast of the UK. The January 2007 incident, which took place during high winds and huge waves, resulted in a sizable crack in one side of MSC Napoli’s hull, a flooded engine room, and an oil spillage that spread 8km.
103 containers fell into the sea, and a large amount of local wildlife was severely affected by the pollution to the sea - 1,684 tonnes of the 41,773 tonnes of cargo on board were products classified as dangerous by the International Maritime Organization.
The subsequent investigation found that, of the 660 containers stowed on deck, 137 were more than three tonnes over their declared weight - 20% of the ship’s load. The largest difference was 20 tonnes.
Further incidents due to overweight and mis declared containers took place in February 2007, when a container stack collapsed on the MV Limari in Damietta (due to stacked container rows being up to 407% overweight), and June 2011 when the container ship Deneb sank in Algeciras (due to 16 of the 168 containers on board being as much as 6.7 times the declared weight).
Subsequently, it was ruled that tighter control of container weights had to become a priority.
What is the IMO ruling exactly?
The ruling stated that a container cannot be loaded onto a ship without a verified gross weight reading.
This ‘proof of weight’ must take into account the weight of the container itself, and the weight of the goods it contains.
The container weighing rules apply to all shipping across the world.
“This ruling makes sense,” says Joe Nalty, of JN Export, a freight forwarder, “if there’s a risk of life at sea, as a result of misdeclared weights.”
“Currently, the UK is the most advanced country from an implementation point of view,” says Rachael White, CEO Secretariat of The International Cargo Handling Coordination Association (ICHCA). The process for making the legislation work in practice that evolves in the UK will likely be used as a template for other countries around the world.
Who is responsible for weighing the containers?
The responsibility for the weight of the container will ultimately fall on the shipper (and the weights of containers used by the vessel operator in stowage planning).
This is the person whose name appears on the bill of lading or the transport document. They will be legally responsible for the declaration of the verified gross mass of the loaded container.
The weighing can be done by any organisation as long as they are an accredited weigher. The Overseas Group (OG) will be compiling a list of accredited weighers, so that shippers and forwarders have a directory to fall back should they not be an accredited weigher themselves.
The proof of weight - which will need to be a print-out from when the container was weighed,showing full weight, date, time and where the container was weighed - will need to be presented at the port along with the Bill of Ladings.
So what happens if a container arrives at port without the right weight documentation? According to the Guidelines for Improving Safety and Implementing the SOLAS Container Weight Verification Requirements, published recently by the World Shipping Council, “any costs incurred by the terminal or vessel operator for obtaining a verified gross weight if a shipper has failed to provide one in a timely manner and any recovery of those costs are also commercial matters for the parties to determine.”
What if you can’t weigh your container?
A growing number of terminals provide weighing services to shippers whose containers arrive without a VGM, at an additional cost.
The DSV has said that this method will incur charges of £20 per container plus a port administration fee of £3 per container and a DSV administration fee of £20 per bill of lading for arranging for the port to weigh the container.
Part load (LCL) shipments will also need to be weighed at port, so they will be subject to a £3 per shipment port fee and £20 per shipment administration. The DSV will make all arrangements for LCL shipments.
In these instances, the VGM cut-off time will need to be before the general cut-off time according to the Ocean Carrier Equipment Association. This is to ensure there is enough time to get the weighing done before the ship needs to sail.
How do you get an accurate weight for the containers?
The MCA highlighted several acceptable ways a weight of a container can be obtained. You can see the table, with advantages and disadvantages listed, towards the end of the MCA document.
1. Weigh the container after the goods have been packed into it.
This may be more practical as it doesn’t require the container to be weighed whilst empty (making it logistically easier for most freight companies).
You must use calibrated and Trade Approved scales for this verification method.
2. Weighing items before they are loaded into the container
After speaking to members of the shipping, relocation and freight industries, we felt that this was the most flexible option.
Simply, weigh each pallet or item before loading it into the container, and then add on the tare weight of the container. This includes all packaging materials, as well as the goods themselves.
You should not estimate the weight of your container. This is not permitted under the SOLAS regulations.
This option is the most flexible because it means a highly accurate weight can be obtained wherever the container is being loaded.
3. The degree of accuracy required from the equipment used has to be specified.
As mentioned above, the MCA has stated there is a maximum degree of error allowed when getting your verified weight, and this takes the form of a percentage of the total weight:
2% above 20 tonnes and +/- 400kg below 20 tonnes or
2% above 15 tonnes and +/- 300kg below 15 tonnes
Regular compliance checks will be carried out by the MCA
The MCA has the power to carry out routine and regular checks to ensure carriers are meeting the SOLAS requirements. No details were provided on exactly how the checks would be carried out, however in another section of the document the MCA does encourage whistle-blowing ‘when it is appropriate to do so.’
What are the consequences of not getting an accurate container weight?
Heavy penalties are to be imposed on shippers who do not comply with the upcoming SOLAS regulations.
Shippers who fail to meet the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) container amendments will have their containers weighed at an extortionate cost.
The Orient Overseas Container Lines (OOCL) are allowed to charge up to £227 weighing charge per container. They have also said that if certified scaling requires the driver to take a diversion to provide the service, an additional per mile cost will be added.
They have also previously said that should any weight declaration be found to be incorrect, it could result in the removal of the container from the ship.
Additionally, spot checks will take place at ports. “In our commitment to safety, packed containers will be randomly selected for weighing to check against the verified gross mass (VGM), submitted by the shipper,” an OOCL statement has read.
What types of weighing equipment must be used?
All weighing equipment used to provide a verified weight must be calibrated and certified. Weighing equipment means a scale, weighbridge, lifting equipment or any other device which is capable of determining the actual gross mass of a packed container or of packages and cargo items, pallets, dunnage and other packing and securing material.
It is likely that different types of weighing equipment would be used depending upon which of the above methods are chosen to verify the container weight. It is important that you speak to your weighing equipment supplier to get an understanding of which methods would be most suitable for your business while also meeting SOLAS requirements.
At Marsden, we have several scales which verified weighers can use when weighing containers for SOLAS. Marsden's portable mild steel weigh beams, which can positioned apart to weigh any size of container. With the correct indicator, they can also be Trade Approved.