TT Talk - The IMO initiative – measurement of gross weight

Now that the date has passed for final submission of papers for the 89th meeting of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (‘MSC’) due to take place 11-20 May 2011, it is possible to look objectively at the subject of misdeclaration of container weights.

Whereas at one time with all sea freight and handling charges being based on weight and handling plant having much lower levels of safe working load the question of the correct gross weight of cargo was of paramount importance, in recent years none of this has applied. However, as the official report into the stranding of ‘MSC Napoli’ revealed, consistent misdeclaration, ie declaring 10t instead of 15t, can have an adverse impact on stack weights and even on the total deck loading. Indeed, it is not unknown for ships officers to find that their ship is down to its marks with planned cargo for the voyage still awaiting loading. In the case of ‘MSC Napoli’, it was found that there were several hundred tonnes of cargo undeclared in the deck stows and 20% of the containers were more than 3t over the declared weight. Checks could not be made on under deck cargoes in that investigation due to water saturation, but it is logical to assume a similar level of discrepancy. As such, this has become a serious problem and the MARIN Report into the stresses on both lashing gear and containers during a ship’s passage also drew attention to the weight issue.

This report was considered by the IMO’s Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes and Containers Sub Committee (‘DSC’) at its 15th meeting last September and, in relation to weight of containers, it invited member governments to submit proposals for MSC/89 for a new work item on this issue. This is in accordance with normal IMO procedures and such a proposal has been submitted. The only decision for MSC to make is whether to take up the issue and, in view of the situation and the obvious potential deleterious effect on the safe operation of shipping, it can hardly do otherwise. The paper, which is also from the Netherlands government that submitted the MARIN Report to DSC/15, points out that SOLAS already requires declaration of the goods and gross mass, and that any further consideration on this issue will need to build on that.

There are various views as to how this might be achieved with the World Shipping Council proposing that container terminals should be mandated to perform the weighing function. Equally, it is known that port equipment manufacturers have accepted a challenge to bring about a situation where all lifting machines used in the marine environs have the ability to weigh the loads being handledand that this is a standard feature on all items of plant on sale in the future. They will also look at packs for retrofitting and both approaches will relate to the smallest pallet truck used to load goods into containers up to the largest machines used on terminals.

If the proposal to IMO is adopted, it will be the normal procedure for MSC to instruct DSC to propose the best way for the issue to be dealt with and, applying the usual minimum timescale, it would mean that an amended IMO position could be adopted in May 2013.

It is clear that this issue should be addressed and that IMO is the right international body to do so. It is also clear that the way to do this is to build on the current SOLAS requirements and the first steps have been taken to achieve that goal.

Mike Compton, Technical Advisor to ICHCA International, provides the following commentary on the current IMO process.

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