Container weighing has, since 1 July 2016, become a global requirement.

TT Club has been closely involved in the industry debate concerning the correct declaration of the weight of packed containers. It is a matter that has contributed to a number of incidents on land and on board ships, albeit that it is fully recognised that weight discrepancies alone rarely are causative. It is an issue that is closely related to packing of CTUs, where TT Club's analysis of claims has shown that as much as 2/3 of cargo damage claims can be attributed to poor and improper packing.

The issue of weight discrepancies was highlighted in the UK MAIB report into the grounding of 'MSC Napoli', where it was described as one that is able to 'erode or eliminate the safety margins in place'. The theme was taken up in the MARIN 'Lashing@Sea' report that was presented to the relevant IMO safety committee in 2010, leading to a work item to identify ways to prevent losses of container at sea.

Verified gross mass mandatory from

1 July 2016

In November 2014, the IMO Maritime Safety Committee adopted an amendment to SOLAS to require that shippers obtain the 'verified gross mass' (VGM) of packed containers and communicate it to the ocean carrier sufficiently in advance of the ship stow planning. Ocean carriers are obliged to use the VGM in the stow plan and, together with the terminal operator, ensure that any container that does not have a VGM is not loaded on a ship.

Stakeholder summaries

These short guides are intended to identify the key issues that are required by the different industry stakeholders. They should always be read in the context of more detailed information outlined on this page.

Note that this is a defined term in the guidance to the regulation MSC.1/Circ.1475.  For the purposes of this summary, the term is restricted to those who are manufacturers or traders (buyers/sellers) and are presented cargo for shipment by sea in containers.

  • Where you are to be named on the ocean carrier’s bill of lading, you will need to obtain VGM by weighing and communicate it to the carrier and terminal
  • Two methods are possible, both involve using calibrated and certified weighing equipment compliant in the state in which the equipment is used
  • If you present LCL (‘less than container load’) cargo, you should be prepared to provide ‘cargo gross mass’ information, that confirms the mass of the cargo and all packaging, including pallets on which the cargo is placed
  • Where you rely on service providers, you will need to ensure that they understand the revised obligations, carry out due diligence and review contractual arrangements

You will generally appear on the ocean carrier’s bill of lading as ‘shipper’ and consequently you will be legally responsible for VGM, both in terms of obtaining and communicating it.

  • Consider whether ‘Method 1’ or ‘Method 2’ is most appropriate for the services you provide, noting that both involve using calibrated and certified weighing equipment compliant in the state in which the equipment is used
  • Ensure that you implement a weighing process that is compliant, whether you are directly involved in the packing process or employ a third party service provider
  • Where you rely on third party service providers, you will need to ensure that they understand the revised obligations, carry out due diligence and review contractual arrangements
  • Ensure that your communications with the ocean carriers (and marine terminals) are effective and consistent with the requirements set down. Note that using or adopting electronic methodologies may reduce the possibility of errors

Where you appear on the ocean carrier’s bill of lading as ‘shipper’ you will be legally responsible for VGM, both in terms of obtaining and communicating it. There will be instances where you are not the ‘shipper’ in these terms, but may well assume elements of legal responsibility depending on the service provided.

  • Consider whether ‘Method 1’ or ‘Method 2’ is most appropriate for the services you provide, noting that both involve using calibrated and certified weighing equipment compliant in the state in which the equipment is used. You may operate both methods in differing circumstances
  • Ensure that you implement a weighing process that is compliant, whether you are directly involved in the packing process or employ a third party service provider
  • Where you accept LCL (‘less than container load’) cargo, require the actual shipper or co-load partner to provide ‘cargo gross mass’ information, that confirms the mass of the cargo and all packaging, including pallets on which the cargo is placed
  • Where you rely on service providers, you will need to ensure that they understand the revised obligations, carry out due diligence and review contractual arrangements
  • Ensure that your communications with the ocean carriers (and marine terminals) are effective and consistent with the requirements set down. Note that using or adopting electronic methodologies may reduce the possibility of errors

From a carrier's perspective, your tank containers are generally viewed as 'shipper owned'. You will frequently be named as 'shipper' on the ocean carrier's bill of lading.

  • Tank containers will typically be filled at an actual shipper’s premises, so obtaining VGM will usually involve weighing at those premises or another third party weighing facility
  • MSC.1/Circ.1475 (paragraph 5.1.2.2) states that Method 2 may be inappropriate and impractical for bulk cargoes, so Method 1 (weighing the tank container once filled) should be used
  • There would appear to be consensus that this Method 1 weighing process may include:

    a. weighing the vehicle and empty tank container on entry to the filling site;
    b. weighing the vehicle and filled tank container at exit from the filling site (assuming that the tank container remains on the same truck/trailer and thus the initial mass is unchanged);
    c. deducting a. from b. and adding the CSC plated tare mass of the container

  • Following discharge of cargo, it is common for a tank container to be shipped in an ‘empty/dirty’ state (ie. prior to the cleaning process that will remove any residues). Since such a container movement will require normal transport documentation (including DG note), it is expected that the same Method 1 weighing process will be carried out in advance of carriage by sea
  • Where you rely on service providers, you will need to ensure that they understand the revised obligations, carry out due diligence and review contractual arrangements
  • Ensure that your communications with the ocean carriers (and marine terminals) are effective and consistent with the requirements set down. Note that using or adopting electronic methodologies may reduce the possibility of errors

Moving containers by road will be subject to a variety of national regulations. The obligations arising under the revised SOLAS regulation do not immediately impact what you do, although you may face requests to adjust your operations to facilitate others’ compliance.

  • Be aware in general of the requirements
  • Engage with your counterparties/contractual principal (whether shipping line or shipper) to understand any additional operational expectations, for example requests to use weighbridge or similar services during transit to the port
  • Be alert that there may be situations where delays are encountered or a container is refused entry to a port, which will have a negative impact on your logistics model

Importantly, SOLAS creates a joint and several responsibility (with the carrier) to ensure that VGM information is received and used in the ship stow planning process. Without VGM, a packed container shall not be loaded on to the ship.

  • Consider in-gate processes and exception handling, negotiating with the carrier customers in relation to their contractual and practical expectations
  • Where weighing services are to be offered (in most instances this will be Method 1), ensure that you are using calibrated and certified weighing equipment compliant in the state in which the equipment is used
  • Ensure that your communications with the ocean carriers and/or shippers are effective and consistent with the requirements set down, particularly in relation to message standards, but also including any cut-off times to support operations
  • In many instances, your contracts will be with the ocean carriers, which may require review to ensure that responsibilities and liabilities are appropriate. In other instances, you may need to contract directly with shippers, particularly in relation to any weighing activity done on their behalf; ensure that contractual terms are established and communicated/incorporated effectively

The carriers’ primary responsibility is to receive and use the VGM information. Without VGM, a packed container shall not be loaded on to the ship.

  • Agree with joint service partners and ship owners (for chartered tonnage) the precise message format that will be communicated between you
  • Ensure that your communications with shippers and/or marine terminals are effective and consistent with the requirements set down, particularly in relation to message standards, but also including any cut-off times to support operations
  • While usual bill of lading conditions will include terminology that requires the shipper (usually described as ‘Merchant’) to indemnify you for costs relating to incorrect cargo declaration or presentation, you may want to review such contractual provisions

Commonly, container transport will involve carriage by sea before and/or after the main ocean carriage. Subject to the limited exclusions relating to ro-ro on short sea international voyages, the operators’ primary responsibility is to receive and use the VGM information. Without VGM, a packed container shall not be loaded on to a SOLAS VI regulated ship.

  • Agree with terminal and shipping line counterparties the precise message format that will be communicated between you
  • Ensure that your communications with shippers and/or marine terminals are effective and consistent with the requirements set down, particularly in relation to message standards, but also including any cut-off times to support operations
  • Recognise that transhipment terminals should expect to receive VGM information from any previous carrier and supply VGM information to any on-carrier
  • While usual bill of lading conditions will include terminology that requires the shipper (usually described as ‘Merchant’) to indemnify you for costs relating to incorrect cargo declaration or presentation, you may want to review such contractual provisions

"TT Club is often in a unique and objective position to support the industry in identifying the complexities of the revised legislation."

Peregrine Storrs-Fox, TT Club Risk Management Director