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New rules to tackle ‘misdeclared’ cargo

Spate of incidents leads IMO to impose mandatory verification of mass of packed containers

An important new regulation for all parties involved in international container shipping will come into force on 1 July 2016 with the implementation of amendments to SOLAS Regulation V1/2. This will make it mandatory for the gross weight of a packed container to be verified before it can be loaded onto a ship.

For some years there has been a lot of debate on how best to tackle the issue of container collapses and losses due to overweight containers. The widespread practice of overloading containers has led to a spate of incidents around the world – everything from broken cranes and fork-lift trucks to damaged vessels and even ship casualties, not to mention the risk of personal injury to seafarers and others.


The resultant loss in terms of delays, costs and interrupted services can hardly be overstated. It was for this reason that the International Maritime Organization in 2011 began to develop measures to prevent loss of containers in response to a proposal by Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands and comments by the World Shipping Council and the International Chamber of Shipping.

A key element of this work was the verification of container mass. It was agreed that the gross mass of a container should be verified either by weighing the packed container using calibrated and certified equipment; or by weighing all packages and cargo items and adding the tare mass (the weight of the empty container) to the sum of the single masses.

According to the new amendments to Regulation V1/2 of the Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) Convention, the shipper must ensure that the verified gross mass of each packed container is stated in the shipping document. This document, signed by the shipper or his representative, must be submitted to the master or his representative, and to the terminal representative, in good time for the ship stowage plan to be drawn up. If not, the container shall not be loaded onto the ship.

There is an exemption for containers carried on a chassis or trailer that are driven onto or off a ro-ro ship engaged in short international voyages.


At a glance…

The SOLAS amendments will take effect on 1 July 2016 and the new requirements can best be summed up in two main bullet points:

  • Verified weight is a condition for loading a packed container onto a ship.
  • Shipper is responsible for providing the verified weight.


Problems with weight

The extent of current problems relating to ‘misdeclared container mass’ was made clear by Colin P. Young, the Caribbean’s regional maritime adviser to the IMO, when he addressed delegates at the Caribbean Shipping Association AGM in Cartagena, Colombia, in October. Mr Young presented a list of typical problems arising from overweight containers:

  • Incorrect vessel stowage decisions
  • Restowage of containers (involving delays and costs) if overweight condition is ascertained
  • Collapsed container stacks
  • Containers lost overboard
  • Cargo liability claims • Damage to ships • Stability and stress risk for ships • Risk of personal injury or death for seafarers and shore workers • Impaired service schedules
  • Supply chain delays for shippers of properly declared containers • Last-minute shutouts of confirmed, booked and available loads when the actual mass on board exceeds what is declared and the total cargo mass exceeds the vessel limit or port draft limit
  • Impairment of vessel trim and draft, leading to inefficient use of fuel and a higher level of air emissions
  • Liability for accidents and fines for overweight containers on roads with time and effort spent on seeking reimbursement
  • Lost revenue and earnings (customs authorities, exports and importers, shipowners).


What the SOLAS amendment says

The actual wording of the amendments to SOLAS Regulation V1/2 is as follows:

“In the case of cargo carried in a container, except for containers carried on a chassis or a trailer when such containers are driven on or off a ro-ro ship engaged in short international voyages… the gross mass according to Paragraph 2.1 of this regulation shall be verified by the shipper, either by:

  1. Weighing the packed container using calibrated and certified equipment; or
  2. Weighing all packages and cargo items, including the mass of pallets, dunnage and other securing material to be packed in the container, and adding the tare mass of the container to the sum of the single masses, using a certified method approved by the competent authority of the state in which the packing of the container was completed.

The shipper of a container shall ensure the verified gross mass is stated in the shipping document.

The shipping document shall be:

  1. Signed by a person authorized by the shipper; and
  2. Submitted to the master or his representative and to the terminal representative sufficiently in advance preparation of the ship stowage plan.

If the shipping document, with regard to a packed container, does not provide the verified gross mass and the master or his representative and the terminal representative have not obtained the verified gross mass of the packed container, it shall not be loaded onto the ship.”