The shipping industry approaches the twelve month mark before mandated verification of gross mass of containers enters into force on 1 July 2016, we provide commentary on emerging good practice.
It hopefully has not escaped the notice of anyone in the freight industry that there has been a modest amendment incorporated into a central piece of international maritime legislation, the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS), relating to cargo gross mass or ‘weight’.
The uninitiated layman would be aghast that in the 21st century the accurate gross mass of cargo being packed into containers and carried through the supply chain is not known. Indeed, the fathers of containerisation would probably be almost as surprised that a culture and practice of tolerance and accommodation has developed over the last half century.
^ MSC Napoli
What does ‘MSC Napoli’ really tell us?
Of course, few disasters can be attributed in any great measure to weight alone. ‘MSC Napoli’ is often cited in this context, although the UK MAIB concluded: ‘The effect of the discrepancies in the declared weights of the containers would not have been sufficient to cause hull failure, but it would have contributed to the reduction of the safety margin between the total bending moment experienced and the strength of the hull’. That investigation is crucial in this story, however, since it was one of the few occasions where a systematic attempt was made to establish the weight of cargo carried in containers. Most of the 700 containers stowed on deck were weighed during discharge and the report states that 20% of those weighed were found to be ‘more than 3 tonnes different [that is both over and under] from their declared weights’. The largest discrepancy was 20 tonnes and the total weight on deck found to be 312 tonnes heavier than on the cargo manifest. Even allowing for the dynamic process, this is sobering. The report also estimated that the ‘deadload’ (the difference between the observed draught and calculated loaded deadweight) was 1,250 tonnes, equating perhaps to a potential freight loss on some extra 80 containers!
Added impetus was given to the growing groundswell of maritime opinion with the publication in 2010 of the findings from the MARIN ‘Lashing@Sea’ research project. Amongst a number of other important – and largely outstanding – recommendations was that the unknown variables concerning accurate declaration of container weight could also compromise stows on board ships. Following that, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) set about careful industry consultation, culminating in the adoption in November 2014 of a requirement for the shipper to ‘verify’ the gross mass of a container as a pre-condition of loading on board a ship, with an enforcement date of 1 July 2016.
“the shipper shall ‘verify’ the gross mass of a container as a pre-condition of loading on board a ship, with an enforcement date of 1 July 2016”
The amendment to SOLAS Chapter VI, Part A, Regulation 2
The precise wording of the amendment can be summarised as follows:
1. shall verify the gross mass by
(a) either weighing the packed container [‘Method 1’]
(b) or weighing all constituent parts in the load [‘Method 2’]
2. ensure that the verified gross mass is
(a) stated on the (signed) shipping document and
(b) submitted sufficiently in advance to be used in the ship stowage plan
If a verified gross mass is not available, the Master and Terminal Representative shall not load on to the ship.
In order to assist implementation around the globe, the IMO also published Guidelines. The simple objective of this change was to ensure that accurate weight information is available and used. In part this was clearly to do with safety in general and an attempt to stem the loss of containers overboard. It can also be seen as more ‘trade facilitation’, since this change sits alongside increasing requirements for advance cargo information and the need for improved efficiencies in stowing and carrying containers by sea.
It is striking how effective this change to SOLAS can be. Not only is it immediately law in all jurisdictions that are signatory to the convention, with no further enactment required, but also disproportionately benefits inland transportation and infrastructure, since the vast majority of containers remain undisturbed through their entire journey.
“It is striking how effective this change to SOLAS can be”
The interface between maritime and land is, however, important in achieving the objectives. A number of countries are advancing in identifying processes by which the revised legislation can be implemented at national level; a leader amongst them being the UK, which has recently published a ‘Marine Guidance Note’ following a period of consultation amongst the freight industry. The UK is utilising existing auditable accreditation systems (such as Authorised Economic Operator (AEO), ISO 9000 and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems) to manage certification of the Method 2 process, whereas calibration and certification for straight weighing (Method 1) is accommodated by existing weights and measures regulations.
The UK model may form a useful base for other jurisdictions, albeit that not all will have the same level of integration between relevant regulatory bodies. The variety of parties in the supply chain is often matched in the range of interested government departments, which can make consultation more protracted and difficult. Further, some jurisdictions may have no framework to accredit a procedure – which is the premise of Method 2 – dealing only with entities.
There is divergence of opinion around the world as to whether most shippers will choose the calculation route (Method 2), subject to appropriate national certification, or simply have the box weighed at the end of the packing process. There can be little doubt that the accuracy derived from verification will deliver numerous benefits – not least safety throughout the supply chain.
All credit for this article is given to TT Club.