TT Talk - What is the impact of terminals being 'in the frame' for weighing containers?

The World Shipping Council ('WSC') submission to IMO's Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes and Containers Sub Committee ('DSC') for its meeting in September 2012 has been supported by some key maritime administrations and a range of non-governmental organisations amongst the shipping and transport industry.

A key part of the submission is the introduction of the concept of 'terminal representative' into the wording of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS), Chapter VI, Part A, Regulation 5, which deals with stowage and securing of general cargo on board ships. This concept is parallel to that in Regulation 7 relating to stowage and securing in bulk operations. In essence, since the risks are similar, such a proposal seems to have merit. It is a simple change that will balance the existing shipper obligation in Regulation 2, which has proved difficult to enforce. The proposed amendment is not intended to make the 'terminal representative' responsible to validate the gross weight, rather to ensure that a certified gross weight is available prior to loading on board a ship.

It is suspected that enforcement agencies will more easily be able to address the ship and the terminal than a shipper, who may be distant from the port and/or resident in a different jurisdiction. Furthermore, and crucially, this creates a 'level playing field' by which all ships will have to adopt a common standard. Anecdote would have us understand that cargo rejected by one line may historically have been accepted by another. As such, global legislation should resolve any commercial sensitivities.

However, the proposal will inevitably increase the legal exposure of a terminal operator to the extent that it fails in its obligations, resulting in an accident or liability for increased cost. There will be a change in liability, under contract, tort and statute. Although this is the case, it is likely that terminals will be able to satisfy the new obligations and mitigate their exposure by negotiating terms with the lines that limit liability and/or take insurance cover. On the latter point, while the TT Club has not formally assessed this change in exposure, underwriters generally are adept at accommodating legislative revision. Indeed, from a risk perspective, it can be argued that there is a balance between implications of complying with new regulation and the consequences of accidents.

The challenges for terminals are real but not insurmountable. There will be necessary procedural amendment and the probable introduction of infrastructure changes to facilitate check-weighing export containers received by road, rail and barge. Furthermore, IT systems and processes will need enhancement to manage the flow of information. It would seem there is growing acceptance that the most effective method of weighing containers individually is via the twistlocks of the spreader on the receiving handling equipment. A weigh bridge process is more complex since allowance has to be made for the conveyance (road rig or railcar) and it is impossible to weigh two twenty foot boxes carried on one conveyance. There are today two recognised systems on the market to weigh the load on the twistlocks: LASSTEC uses a fibre optic sensor imbedded in the twistlock (, whereas BROMMA have adopted a load cell using conventional strain gauges ( The technical challenge for these systems is to make the sensors and load cells shock and vibration resistant, inert to the rough handling environment and still provide a high level of accuracy. However, the savvy terminal will seek safety benefits beyond pure check-weighing, including load eccentricity, 'snag-load' and accidental trailer lifting detection.

The cost incurred by terminals and lines in implementing such changes are likely to be recoverable between the contractual parties (as is predicted in the WSC submission). Providing an additional service is something that the terminals could expect to add to box handling or other service charges and no doubt the lines will pass a similar charge to shippers - and it will filter through to each of us in our supermarket shopping! It is also likely that implementation will be some four to five years hence, giving time for the parties to deal with the requirements.

In summary, this revision to maritime regulation will enable discipline to be brought to weight declaration through the container supply chain. There will be costs and increased exposure for terminals, amongst others, but it is likely that the impact can be substantially mitigated for terminals - and the collateral safety and operational opportunities look interesting.

Staff Author

TT Club