TT Talk - VGM: latest IMO advice

The IMO has issued a


to all Member States and the transport industry this week in order to assist the implementation of the VGM amendment to SOLAS, which comes into effect on 1 July. TT Club welcomes the move, noting that governments have also been urged to engage with the industry in their jurisdictions to assist with compliance and to share best practice with other national authorities.

At an International Maritime Organization (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee 96


session (MSC) in London, delegates agreed on guidance and advice to both those active in the container supply chain globally (shippers, carriers and port operators), as well as governmental representatives tasked with enforcing the regulation. The Circular urges 'practical and pragmatic' enforcement of VGM over the first three-month settling-in period, partly in respect of transhipment containers but also recognising the probability of 'teething' problems in documenting, communicating and sharing VGM information.

Like many others in the industry, TT Club has been disturbed by the apparent confusion over how shippers will comply with the amendment to the International Convention on Safety of Lives at Sea (SOLAS), making it mandatory for all packed containers to obtain and communicate the Verified Gross Mass (VGM) as a precondition to loading onto a ship.

Moreover, the patchy guidance given by national authorities to assist shippers and operators in minimising expense, delays and errors in complying with the regulation has been particularly concerning.

Transhipment containers originally loaded prior to 1 July

One area of potential confusion has been eradicated. Packed containers that are loaded on a ship before 1 July but are trans-shipped on or after that date for carriage to their final port of discharge, will be permitted to do so without the VGM specified in the new regulation

With regard to enforcement, given the difficulties to achieve uniformity of interpretation by authorities around the world and therefore a lack of the consistency that shippers (and others in the industry) clearly require, the IMO is urging a policy of 'practical and pragmatic' enforcement by authorities over the first three months.

"IMO is urging a policy of 'practical and pragmatic' enforcement by authorities over the first three months"

There are no doubt still a number of grey areas. In order to give time for these to be resolved the IMO's intent is that any party who has done its level best to comply, even if it has not technically fulfilled the letter of the law, may expect to be treated with understanding. Those, however who have done little or nothing can expect to be penalised

The four industry organisations (TT Club, World Shipping Council, ICHCA and Global Shippers' Forum) that produced the

'Industry FAQs'

in December 2015 are also intent on issuing supplementary guidance in advance of 1 July.

Cargo safety is more than just weight

In recognition that the revised requirements in relation to VGM are simply a part of the broader set of international safety requirements relating to the carriage of cargo, including the CTU Code also approved during 2014, the IMO's Maritime Safety Committee emphasised that safe operation of ships is not limited to the provision and use of VGM information.

Contrary to some comment about the inclusion of

SOLAS regulations

VI/2.1 VI/2.2 and VI/2.3, there is no intent to dilute the specific and explicit requirements in relation to VGM contained in the Circular VI/2.4 to VI/2.6 (and VI/2.4 in particular). Rather, the new provisions qualify and expand what goes before. The pre-existing paragraphs should be read in the context of the other aspects of the cargo declaration as well as weight. As such, it is a useful reminder that the particular properties of the cargo are equally - if not more - important in relation to safe carriage at sea, including reference to other IMO documents such as the IMDG Code.

"a useful reminder that the particular properties of the cargo are equally - if not more - important in relation to safe carriage at sea

Crucially in order to bring the clarity of interpretation and consistency of implementation of VGM across all trading jurisdictions, the Maritime Safety Committee is delivering a strong message from its meeting last week. National governments, the signatories to SOLAS, need to engage closely with the container supply chain industry to assist shippers, terminal operators and ship masters in reaching compliance. Governments are also urged to liaise with each other‎ to share best practice, towards which a number of key authorities have already made significant progress.

With just five weeks to mandatory implementation of this revision of international law to require 'verified gross mass', urgent action between all stakeholders is required. Keep an eye on TT Club's revamped

dedicated 'portal' 

on the subject of container weighing that captures much of the industry debate and the latest position at national level.

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