Does your firm export goods in an ocean shipping container? If the answer is yes, it’s time to get ready for the new SOLAS amendment that goes into effect on July 1st of this year. What’s a SOLAS, you ask? Read on. Familiarizing yourself with this new safety requirement will ensure that you aren’t struggling to explain to your customer why their container was left behind on the dock when the boat sailed.
Summary of the New Regulation
In short, the Maritime Safety Committee (“MSC”) of the International Maritime Organization (“IMO”) adopted amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (“SOLAS”) in November of 2014. The purpose of the amendment was to address the alleged failure of shippers to provide ocean carriers with accurate weights for loaded containers tendered for international transportation. The amendments, which become effective on July 1, 2016, require that shippers of cargo containers, (regardless of who packed the container) ensure that the container’s “verified gross mass” (“VGM”) is stated in the shipping document. SOLAS also requires the shipping document to be:
- Signed by the shipper (or a person authorized by the shipper); and
- Submitted to the ocean carrier and the port terminal prior to the container being loaded onto a vessel.
This VGM must be provided “sufficiently in advance, as required by the master or his/her representative, to be used in the preparation of the ship stowage plan.” If the VGM of the packed container is not provided and verified by the shipper, the carrier and terminal port are not permitted to load the container on the ship. In other words, the container with all of the shipper’s products will be left at the port, likely incurring demurrage charges, until the VGM is provided for the next scheduled sailing.
Methods for determining the VGM
Based on the new SOLAS amendment, there will be two acceptable methods for determining the VGM:
- Weigh the packed container using a calibrated and certified truck scale; or
- Weigh all packages and items within the container, including packaging, pallets, and securing materials, and add to that the tare weight of the container using calibrated and certified scale equipment.
Estimates are not permitted.
Because these new SOLAS amendments go into effect on July 1, 2016, shippers that utilize cargo containers to export products (and import products from foreign vendors) must act now to ensure that they (or their foreign vendors) have procedures in place to avoid being left at the docks.
How will SOLAS be enforced, and penalties assessed?
The United States Coast Guard recently stated that neither it, nor any other federal agency, has the authority to apply SOLAS to domestic shippers. However, “the ships that bring U.S. exports to market are required, by their flag states (foreign governments), to comply with the SOLAS regulations.” Therefore, providing no VGM may halt the container on the pier while the ship, which was supposed to carry your container overseas, sails off onto the high seas. On the other hand, providing a false VGM may make the shipper liable for damages sustained by the carrier, if any, as a result of that false report.
What shippers should do now to prepare
- Determine whether you have the appropriate scales.
Consider contacting your state’s Department of Weights and Measures to determine if you have equipment that can be calibrated and certified.
- Speak to your transportation partners to determine if they have access to scales that can be calibrated and certified by a State authority.
- Review your transportation contracts to see if they need to be amended to reflect who will be responsible for the actual weighing of the container, and how the shipper will verify and that the information is provided to the ocean carrier and port.
- Review your insurance coverage to determine what additional coverage you may need to to protect against fines and other damages caused by inaccurate VGMs.
Implementation of the SOLAS amendment is now less than 90 days away. If you haven’t evaluated how your firm is going to handle the new weighing requirement, now is the time to do so.
Editor’s Note: Air & Surface Logistics is a licensed Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC), license #024909N.