SOLAS panel

May 13 | 2016

Steve Jordan, Editor of The Mover, acted as moderator at the FIDI conference for a panel discussion on the new amendments to the SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) regulations that come into force on 1 July, 2016.

The panel was made up of Nick Massee from Asian Tigers Mobility – Japan; Thomas de Mallmann, Africa Desk Manager for AGS Frasers; Terry Head, 
President of International Association of Movers (IAM); and Chris Welsh MBE, Secretary General of the Global Shippers’ Forum in the UK.

The new amendments require that every container loaded on any vessel anywhere in the world declares its Verified Gross Mass (VGM). This means that every container must be accurately weighed, on certified equipment, before it can be loaded. The responsibility lies with the shipper to provide the VGM, with the terminals not to load containers and the ships’ masters not to accept containers without one.

Right from the start it was clear that the level of understanding amongst the assembled delegates was mixed, with some being very aware of the requirements and others having little or no knowledge of them. As the panellists explained the situation in their own regions it became clear that arrangements to comply with the regulations worldwide varied greatly too.

In Asia, Nick said that there were significant differences regionally but he didn’t anticipate any problems in the major markets of China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan and Korea. In Africa Thomas said that many African countries already have weigh bridges, with facilities in Kenya, Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana being “pretty good” whereas others had done nothing at all. Terry said that in the US the US Coast Guard, the body responsible for safety at US ports, said they were not going to publish any regulations. So the industry has been scrambling to come up with common rules that will govern this. While in the UK it was also a mixed picture: “There is still a lot of ignorance and a lot of people don’t know what to do,” said Chris.

The first matter to clarify was, who is the shipper? Chris explained that it is whoever’s name appears on the OBL. Terry added that it could also be a shippers’ association who cuts a master OBL. Simply, if your name is in the ‘shipper’ box on the OBL, you are responsible for providing the VGM.

Some ports have already come forward saying that they will provide weighing facilities and will weigh containers if they do not already have a VGM. This offer was, however, one driven by commercial forces as the ports don’t want to lose out to their competitors, however it was unclear how exactly they would do this. Chris explained that the regulation was originally aimed purely at the terminal but they blocked it as, if they became responsible for it, they also become liable if containers were incorrectly declared and if there were serious incidents at sea, lawsuits could result.

The requirement is for the VGM to be accurate. There is no tolerance built into the regulation. However, local authorities will adopt their own tolerance for enforcement purposes with the most common figure being discussed to be +/- 5% up to a maximum of 500kg. Piet van Herk, from Voerman said that the Dutch authorities had already accepted the declaration of a volumetric weight based upon 6.5lbs/cu ft (100kg m3) however this would not prevent a shipper being fined if it were checked and found to be wrong.

The consequences of making a false declaration have not yet been established. Thomas said that Kenya had already said that 20% of containers will be checked. In the US there will be spot checks but nobody has yet said what the penalties will be. The IMO has set the rules but doesn’t say to its members how to apply them. It is, therefore, essential for every shipper to engage in a dialogue with their local authority to establish the procedure required. It is likely that, as the system gets underway, best practice will evolve and so a more common process will emerge. Chris said that the IMO will meet in May for further discussions on this.

Some moving contracts are currently quoted on weight which may be calculated using a volumetric formula. In future, customers will know the actual weight and so shippers might need to discuss with their customers an appropriate approach.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that the regulation will come into force in July, the date will not be postponed, all shippers will be required to provide a VGM for each container, shippers must now decide exactly how they will comply. If they fail to do so they will not be able to load containers or, therefore, operate a deep-sea service for their customers.

Photo: Steve Jordan and the SOLAS panel.

FIDI Conference part 1 – FIDI in Geneva
FIDI Conference part 2 - A label not a logo
FIDI Conference part 3 - The dangers of anti-competitive conduct