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Container weighing

Dec 13, 2015
The big challenge for shippers in 2016.

From the first of July 2016 every container that is loaded on any vessel anywhere in the world will have to declare a verified gross weight.  The requirement is as a result of amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea convention (SOLAS) that have been adopted by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).  It is already throwing the household goods shipping industry, along with many others, into turmoil. This is not legislation that is likely to go away and the authorities have already said that there will not be concessions.  It’s on its way so movers the world over had better get themselves ready.    

The new regulations have been some years in the making and come as a result of some high profile shipping disasters including the MOL Comfort that broke in two while sailing from Singapore to Jeddah in July 2013 with the loss of over 7,000 containers; the MSC Napoli that suffered structural damage in bad weather in the English Channel in January 2007; and others.  In these cases the container weights were established as a factor in causing the incident.  The legislation has also been encouraged by the insurance industry, fearful that a similar incident with one of the new breed of super container ships (20,000 TEU and above) could cost billions in claims and cause a sever hazard to shipping. 

Lance Carter, Senior Marine Cargo Underwriter from Zurich UK General Insurance said about the new regulations: “They are a welcome development in the marine cargo insurance world as we will likely see a reduction in accidents and total losses and also potentially a reduction in shortage claims and problems associated with miss-declaration. However there are a few concerns that may materialise as the new regulations are enforced: The obligation in on the shipper to weigh each container – what if the equipment is not available or trained staff is not available at a particular location? The additional pressure on the freight forwarding and shipping industry could mean an increase in freight rates and could potentially mean delays in certain circumstances which would be problematic for time sensitive goods. Having said this, the risk of delays from implementing the new regulations is likely to be outweighed when compared to the current risks associated with improperly balanced containers which themselves increase costs by decreasing efficiency, creating unnecessary delays, and causing supply chain interruptions.” 

Chris Welch from the Freight Transport Association in the UK made the position very clear.  “Shippers will be responsible for verifying container weights before loading and they need to be putting plans in place now to ensure they are ready. Containers without a verified weight won’t be loaded onto container vessels from 1 July, 2016.”  

The FTA went on to explain that two methods of verifying weight are acceptable: either weighing the packed container using certified and calibrated equipment; or using a calculated weight method which involves summing the individual items separately, and adding the tare weight of the container and packing materials using an approved process.   

The second method can only be performed if the company is accredited and approved to verify the weight.  In the UK the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has devolved this function to the FTA.  

The irony for the moving industry is that household goods are very lightweight in shipping terms with the average weight per TEU being in the region of three tonnes.  It would make sense, one would think, for the authorities to accept a theoretical weight for such lightweight cargo based on a trial period, however there seems to be little chance that such a concession will be made.  The Overseas Group of the British Association of Removers is in the process of writing to all the shipping lines to put a case for the industry however, Stephen Denning, speaking to The Mover on behalf of the BAR Overseas Group said, “It’s almost certain that it will be ruled out because it’s already gone to an international level. It will still be possible to use an estimated weight when booking a container but the weight must be verified before it goes to the port.”  

This is a global requirement.  Some countries are better served with public weighbridges than others however, even where facilities exist there will be additional costs and delays.  When companies choose to weigh the whole container it will be necessary for the vehicle to be weighed twice – empty and loaded – to establish the verified weight.  Assuming, of course, that it is not possible for a rig to have its tare weight verified permanently by a method acceptable to the authorities.  Even then it will vary depending on the fuel load, the amount of dunnage carried, whether there’s a co-driver.  

That then begs the question: what will happen if shippers don’t comply?  Will ports refuse to take the cargo?  If the weights are checked and proved to be incorrect what will the ports do? “It’s only the master of the ship and the shipper that fall within the regulation, not the ports,” said Stephen Denning.  “The ports are under no obligation to provide a service and they seem reluctant to do so.  But if delays are caused then the port will be penalised if the ship isn’t loaded in time, ships have to sail half loaded or tides are missed.”  Stephen said that the shipping lines too don’t want to get involved but in some countries they will have little choice.  “Where the line employs much or the road haulage fleet they will have to get involved.  It’s probably worthwhile shippers talking to the lines early to see what arrangements can be made.”  

Chris Welsh agrees,  “The countdown towards 1 July 2016 is looming with nine months to go before implementation. Shippers should now start discussions with their carriers and freight forwarders to set in place the logistics and communications systems to ensure compliance with the new rules and to avoid non-shipment and delays in the supply chain.”  

So what are movers around the world doing?  Geoff Watson, Group Managing Director of Doree Bonner International in the UK said:  “In my opinion, in the UK this can only be carried out at the Port of Exit, nothing else makes sense. They already have the equipment and with some investment they can make this happen. They will then make an additional charge for weighing, easily recover their investment and then make a profit. If it does not happen at the Port of Exit we are in real trouble in the UK. The two alternatives we have been given as solutions just do not work, they are impractical, expensive and operationally ridiculous.”  

Andy Neall, VP-Global Moving Services Support for TheMIGroup commented:  “The most practical in certain markets will be container weighing and we recognize that will not be possible everywhere, and whichever way one reviews this, it does seem imminent that additional labour and trucking costs are going to be incurred.”  

Robert Bartup, Managing Director of GB Liners is looking for a resolution.  “We are watching and waiting to see if there is any alternative to weighing at a weighbridge. If not then we will be looking to load only in the mornings as we can’t run the risk of loading over-running and being left with a container full after the weighbridge has closed.  If we can’t find a weighbridge close to loading, then it looks like we will have to bring consignment back, so on-board weighing on our trucks may become commonplace. Prices are going up to pay for it all.”  

“Having just returned from the IAM convention in San Diego we were astonished how many overseas agents had no knowledge of this new international ruling coming into force next year,” said Noel Briscoe, COO of John Mason International.  “Some of the countries said they had no way of weighing containers prior to shipping.”   

Nigel Saunders from Nuss International in Australia said that it would be necessary for weighbridges to be made available close to ports and he believed the port authorities and the shipping lines were working together to find a solution.  He added that enforcing verified weight tickets for shipments might be beneficial for movers as this would allow them to show an actual weight to their clients (such as large RMCs) rather than be required to use a theoretical weight, e.g. 45lbs per item, for charging purposes.  

Charles Luyckx, CEO of Elliott Mobility in South Africa, said: “We have two methods of verification: 1) Using calibrated and certified equipment, we weigh the packed container at the end of the loading process once the seal has been affixed; 2) We weigh each package and include dunnage and securing material and then add the tare weight of the container to obtain a final weight. Obviously, the state authority will certify and approve this.  Naturally, our preferred option is the first method. This is of course time consuming and comes at an additional cost.”  

Niall Mackay, Gerson Relocation commented: “We have established the whereabouts of suitable weighbridges in our area and established the costs.  The steamship lines are not showing any signs of helping us with this at all, nor are the port authorities.  This is something that MTC, OSA and FIDI should be banging on about furiously but they don’t seem to be doing anything.”   

Whichever way you look at it those involved in shipping are in for a few changes next year.  There is little doubt that the legislation is going ahead.  Operators in some countries will find it easier to apply than others.  What will happen when, inevitably, some shippers fail to comply, is unclear.  What is clear, however, is that costs will rise and there should only ever be one person who pays: the customer.  Too many times in the past we have heard that additional costs have been absorbed by the ultra-competitive moving industry under the mantra ‘The customer won’t pay more’.  Well, this time the customer is going to have to pay.  There is no alternative!  And shippers the world over had better start talking to their hauliers, shipping lines and port authorities to work out exactly what the procedure will be when July comes just seven months from now. 

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