TT Talk - Stripped down weight

tclubThe impending mandatory enforcement of verified gross mass (VGM) for all packed containers as a pre-condition to loading on board a ship is - at last - concentrating minds and energy towards implementation. The concern must be that too little time has been left to preclude trade problems in the immediate aftermath of 1 July 2016.

The deadline for enforcement of the revised SOLAS (International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea) regulation was set in November 2014, after some four years of careful deliberation by a broad range of stakeholders at IMO and amongst industry groupings, involving shippers, carriers, ports and terminals - and insurers. Much has been debated in recent months and we offer our own - newly revamped -dedicated webpage as a reasonable source of sound information on the subject.

While fully documented incidents arising from incorrect weight declaration mostly centre on the

UK Maritime Accident Investigation Branch

(MAIB) report into the beaching of 'MSC Napoli' in January 2007, almost every mariner will describe graphically the processes by which ship masters regularly have to adjust for 'deadloads' (the difference between draft data and manifest weights), often into thousands of tonnes.

“almost every mariner will describe graphically the processes by which ship masters regularly have to adjust for ‘deadloads’, often into thousands of tonnes”

The resultant revision to the existing requirement that the shipper provides accurate cargo information to the carrier in sufficient time to be used in the ship stowage planning process is remarkably slight and seemingly proportionate. There are two key clarifications in the new provisions:

  • what constitutes gross mass for SOLAS purposes; and
  • that declaration of gross mass has to be supported by a weighing process.

In TT Club's view, this will deliver even more safety benefit on land than at sea.

Gross mass of packed containers

A casual observer of the containerised industry would hardly be surprised that what is important from a ship stowage perspective is the entirety of the presented cargo. When a packed container is delivered to the ship's side, what is important is the full weight of the box, including everything that is packed inside it.

“When a packed container is delivered to the ship’s side, what is important is the full weight of the box, including everything that is packed inside it”

Malpractice - or at least the possibility of confusion - has reigned too long. The hangover from breakbulk habits of declaring the weight of the cargo alone has been exacerbated by the inevitable continuation of the requirement for precisely that mass for bill of lading and customs purposes. What is entirely logical in relation to contractual liability (where it is based on mass) and tariff filing necessarily neglects the fact that the ship is taking the 'strain' for cargo, dunnage, securing and the box containing it all.

While many might have the right idea, the fact that almost as many do not means that carriers have been presented with data that cannot be confirmed (absent specific intervention) and inevitably have made assumptions. While MAIB pointed to 20% of the deck cargo being ±3 tonnes different to the declared mass, one shipper representative - seeking to argue how unfair the regulation was on the 60% that already comply - admitted that 40% may not be compliant. For a carrier - or any stakeholder or bystander through the supply chain - it is nigh impossible correctly to identify how a shipper is presenting the information.

So, we now have a clear definition for maritime carriage purposes, what 'gross mass' needs to be verified. It is the contents as presented, being the cargo, dunnage, securing and including the tare mass of the container. Two methods will be acceptable by which this VGM is obtained or calculated.

‘How heavy do I look in this?’

However a shipper chooses to obtain the VGM figure, it now clearly has to be supported by a weighing process. 'Method 1' - weighing the container once the packing process is complete - should be simple enough to understand. The alternative ('Method 2'), specifically negotiated amongst the industry stakeholders during the prolonged working group meetings, allows for calculation of all the constituent parts of the load.

While calculation will commonly be required for either method, weighing using equipment 'calibrated and certified', in compliance with the national rules in the country the equipment is used is necessary. In many jurisdictions, the national rules will be based on the relevant guidance - known as 'recommendations' - promulgated by the

. Much relevant debate has raged as to how these recommendations actually apply in logistics and containerised operations. However, where this concentrates overly on 'margins of error', TT Club would state that the point is being missed. SOLAS is seeking accuracy, so the effort should be focused on achieving as close as possible to zero deviation from the truth.

Granted, varying equipment currently available may not be able to achieve zero margins of error. However, planning to stretch the envelope of acceptably to breaking point is hardly acting in good faith. It becomes a measure of risk appetite - as with speed limits on roads - as to how far one will deviate from the truth. If the industry is committed to engender greater safety, those who are prepared to be lax will be penalised and squeezed out.

‘No VGM, no load’

The ocean carriers have been abundantly clear: 'No VGM, no load'. Time is running short to achieve compliance.

We hope that you have found the above interesting. If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any colleagues who you may feel would be interested.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox

Risk Management Director, TT Club

Staff Author

TT Club