Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Container Exports, SOLAS and VGMs What Each Port Is Doing for July the First

Information for Shippers is Still Patchy Even at This Late Stage
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – With just a few days to go before the new Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations kick in it is a good time to see where we are as regards the declaration required from every shipper as to the weight, or Verified Gross Mass (VGM) of every loaded export container, no matter which country in the world it may be shipped from. In previous articles we have written how some ports and terminal operators, such as DP World’s London Gateway, have stayed ahead of the game with dedicated website information, whilst others have dragged their feet regarding the mandatory requirements.

UK China US Canada Middle EastEuropeAfricaAustralia

The situation in the UK has now been resolved at most of the principal ports and our article of the 20th May outlined how each operation would be dealing with the situation. Since that time principal changes are as follows:

Port of Felixstowe – Britain’s busiest port was fastest to indicate it would be offering a weighing service but the last major operation to say methodology and how much. Now management group Hutchison says with 42% of all export containers arriving by rail, these will be weighed as they discharge from the trains as necessary. For boxes coming in by road the port will utilise weighing devices retro-fitted to the rail mounted gantry cranes (RMGs) and reach-stackers at the rail terminals and rubber tyred gantry cranes (RTGs).

Containers arriving by road will be weighed as they are put into the container yard and there will be no separate weighing station and no change to current operational processes for containers arriving by road or rail, except of course shippers which fail to supply a suitably completed VGM will be charged £20 with a £1 Administration fee, the most expensive in the UK that we have found so far.

Charges will, by default, be sent to the cargo broker, however there is an option for the charges to go direct to a third-party provided they have applied for, and have been granted, a ‘VGM exporter badge’ on Destin8 (the port community system) purely for VGM purposes, and the agent for the shipping line has given permission for this to occur. A link to Felixstowe’s instruction sheet is here.

Teesport – PD Ports has now issued a comprehensive document explaining how they will tackle boxes arriving with no VGM and these are quite clear and specific. The standard weighing charge will be £17 however should a container be admitted with the promise of a forthcoming VGM which doesn’t arrive in time, or with incorrect information, any box which requires weighing after passing into the port storage area will incur a charge of £60.79 per container/unit. Once again if you have cargo exporting from here – read the Port’s instructions prior to sending in your cargo!

Port of Tyne – Once again a concise document regarding methodology (load cell technology on the Port of Tyne’s reach stackers, transferrable to the Port’s operating System) is available (HERE) and charges are £17.50 per box with a £10 mis-declaration fee if a declared container weight differs by more than 5% from the port reading. These incorrect details will be passed to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) for review.

Ports of Liverpool, Greenock and Dublin – Peel Ports, responsible for all three are using an entirely different system of establishing VGMs, and one which has come in for criticism from some quarters. Every vehicle entering any of these ports will need to register a MIRO prior to arrival. This is the Mass in Running Order, in other words what the entire rig weighs when the container hasn’t been loaded onto it. MIRO’s are difficult to establish because of the imponderable factors when the unit arrives for weighing at the port. Wet trailer floors, full fuel tanks, spare liquids carried, timbers, chocks and straps etc. all mean some variance although hopefully not usually enough to swing the VGM to that magic 5% or 500 kg intolerance.

The three ports will be equipped with Dynamic Axle Weighbridges (DAWs) which, when passed over slowly, register the axle weights and convert the information to a gross weight. The MIRO is subtracted to leave the VGM (or something close to it). Again a special web page has been prepared to guide exporters viewable here and the basic charges are (Irish figures in brackets): Administration £2.50 (€3), VGM not in tolerance £19.50 (€23), VGM not supplied £19.50 (€23). There is of course no charge for VGMs within tolerance.

Hull – Immingham – Cardiff – Associated British Ports (ABP) has not issued any further information as to how they are dealing with the situation.

Tilbury and London Container Terminal - Grangemouth - Forth Ports says it has invested in a retrofit of the newest twistlock technology which provides accurate VGM and eccentric load identification as well as improving safety process through identifying trailer lifts. The system is fully automatic and requires no intervention from drivers of vehicle or straddle carriers. VGM data is transmitted wirelessly to the Terminal Operating System (TOS). Full details of procedures can be seen here. Charges are £1 administration, Terminal request to weigh £16.50, VGM mis-declaration £11.

London Gateway – Southampton – All details as published in the last article, where DP World led, so others followed, every export container will be weighed and declared VGM’s compared, only boxes without VGM’s and those with wrongly declared weights will be charged weighing fees. The dedicated website remains the clearest explanation of what to do and charges remain as published i.e. administration £1, weighing charge £17.50.

These UK charges incidentally raise an interesting point, is VAT chargeable on the weighing of export containers? All the ports which answered our review said the VGM charges were VAT exempt. Whilst some ports have stated that the tariff is VAT exempt yet how does this fit with exports to EU countries or even when goods are imported via a British port only to be re-exported via a feeder vessel to an EU destination? One hardly dares mention what might be the case following the referendum on the 23rd June except to say this article will mostly be read after that particular scenario has been decided, if it’s Brexit one assumes all export goods and associated charges will be free of VAT anyway.


There are various sources of information to guide shippers, one of the best being the World Shipping Council which have links available to various global regions, Middle East – Asia – Australia; Europe – Africa; The Americas.

China - The Ministry of Transport of China issued its final guidelines on June 6 and they can be seen here (in Simplified Chinese) 简化字.

US – Controversy seemingly still rages in the US as we advised. The Port of Charleston will use weighbridges and having said initially it will charge $25, it now says there will be no charge, see tariff links for full details. In common with other US ports Charleston says nothing further is required from shippers which seems to say that the South Carolina Ports Authority is taking responsibility away from shippers. However an amendment added 21 June says shippers have the right to change these arrangements. Information here with amendment here which seems to say on page 55 that the charge is $12.

Other US ports, such as Long Beach, Oakland and Los Angeles might as well be loading bags of cargo into sailing ships for all the attention they seem to be paying what is a mandatory, worldwide legal requirement for shippers. APM Terminals at LA says it will charge $203.67 (nice round figure) to weigh containers arriving with no VGM. Room there for some enterprising entrepreneur to set up a weighing service in close proximity to the ports perhaps.

APM doesn’t make clear whether the $85 fee they charge for boxes arriving without a VGM also applies whereas Miami will charge $65 for these with no definitive price published yet for weighing the containers. APM at Tacoma will charge $66.88 per box to weigh and $65 for arriving without a VGM. All these last three also charge $4 administration per box. APM also bears responsibility for Mobile, charging $65 for no prior VGM, and at New York $75 for the same service plus a gate weighing fee of $69.10 or post gate weighing, performed by NYTC if permissible costing $125. You can see all APM tariff updates and explanations here.

New York and New Jersey, in common with many US ports have hidden behind the US Coast Guard (USCG) statement that existing scale weights captured at the dock gates are an acceptable solution. At a meeting last month New York decreed ‘The Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association (OCEMA) and USCG continue to work with port constituents and is actively engaged in developing an efficient solution’ however intermodal rail borne containers are causing headaches with the meeting hearing that 14 of the 29 on-dock rail terminals nationwide having announced that they will not discharge boxes without a VGM.

US exporters are advised to check both with shipping lines and ports before considering submitting an export container without a Verified Gross Mass (VGM) Certificate in the form required to satisfy both.

Canada – One of the most expensive options as, in contrast to DP World’s operation in the UK, Vancouver and the Fairview Terminal at Prince Rupert have a published tariff prices of CAN$245 with scales as the chosen weighing method.

Middle East – Dubai, Jebel Ali, DP World again this time it’s Dirh. 65 weighing, full details here whilst Sokhna in Egypt it’s just $10, exclusive of container moving costs, details here.

Europe – Despite some excellent information from the UK sites the rest of Europe’s ‘modern’ ports have been strangely slow to react and there is a paucity of information, particularly regarding charges. DP World will invoice $12 + VAT (see notes on UK above) in Turkey at Yarimca (tariff here). In the Netherlands, these new regulations and their implementation will be incorporated in the Ships Act (Schepenwet). Broekman Logistics at Botlek offers weighing facilities. As of 1 July 2016, the Kramer Group will be offering a weighing service at Maasvlakte, and containers can also be weighed at both of the terminals operated by APM Terminals. As for other ports only a direct enquiry may produce information it seems.

Africa – Again a shortage of published data, as with the other APM terminals worldwide Nigeria’s Apapa facility has a tariff which says 20,000 Naira for weighing services (circa £48). In South Africa, Transnet says it updated EDI/NAVIS, its TOS in May but the system requires ‘that the verified gross mass and supporting information will be provided before a truck will be allowed to enter the terminal gate’, so no weighing in port then. Transnet says this is a process consistent with the current pre-advice requirement for exports.

Australia –  It’s ‘Do It Yourself’ time as DP World says the Australian ports are not currently equipped to deal with VGMs and therefore ‘no container will be shipped unless the VGM is validated prior to entering the terminal’, just bonzer boys, that’s most helpful. Read the instructions (for what they are worth) here.

So the message is, be guided by the port you are shipping the freight through, the body responsible for the regulations in your country and the demands of your chosen shipping line. Whereas the UK authorities have stated they will be using a ‘light touch’ for a bedding in period, the attitude of some of the global ports could hardly be different and shippers delivering un-weighed containers to terminals, particularly if late for departures, could find themselves facing a raft of charges, not only for weighing but including container moving, storage and administration. The main thing to bear in mind if you are a shipper is that the buck stops with you. The first time we have a serious incident involving an incorrectly declared VGM the consequences will be very, very serious.