Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Freight Industry Big Guns Come Out Against Container Overloading

Joint Request for IMO Assistance
Shipping News Feature

US – WORLDWIDE - The World Shipping Council and the International Chamber of Shipping have urged the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to establish an international legal requirement that all loaded containers be weighed at the marine port facility before they are stowed aboard a vessel for export. The issue of overweight containers has been a subject of industry, insurance, and at times government, concern over the years, and has from time-to-time become an issue of concern to the general public after incidents involving overweight boxes.

Most recently, the Maritime Research Institute of the Netherlands has concluded a joint industry-government research project about cargo securing, including collapsing container stacks, and included in its recommendations a call for compulsory weighing of containers prior to vessel loading. The conclusions and recommendations from the research project 'Lashing at Sea' were recently reviewed at the 15th meeting of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes and Containers Subcommittee.

The Subcommittee agreed that, in the interest of safety, there is a need to consider ways and means to ensure that the correct weight of the containers is declared to the carrier and communicated to the ship’s master in order to allow for correct and well-informed handling and stowage. The Subcommittee then invited Member Governments and international organizations to submit further information to the Committee for appropriate action.

There is no available data that reliably indicates how many containers are overweight however, the problem is significant, and arises in almost every trade to some extent. In some geographic trade lanes, the problem is common and, at times, rampant. Shipping lines have reported that in severe cases, the overweight or incorrectly declared weights reaches 10% of the total cargo on board a vessel. Some carriers report that it is not uncommon for actual total cargo weight aboard ship to be 3-7% greater than the declared weight.

There are varying contexts or definitions of “overweight”. A loaded container can exceed road weight limits, rail weight limits, crane lifting limits, container carrying capacity limits, or its weight as declared by the shipper. Each of these overweight situations presents numerous operational and safety problems. The most common overweight situation is when the actual container weight exceeds the shipper’s declared weight. Having the actual weight of a container would enable a carrier and a terminal operator to knowledgeably address all the various container weight issues and requirements.

A wide variety of problems are as a direct result of incorrectly declared container weights including incorrect and potentially fatal vessel stowage decisions, collapsed container stacks, containers lost overboard (both the overweights and containers that were not overweight), chassis and vessel damage, risk of personal injury or death to seafarers and shoreside workers, last minute shut-outs of confirmed, booked and available loads when the actual weight on board exceeds what is declared, and the total cargo weight exceeds the vessel limit or port draft limit and impairment of vessels’ optimal trim and draft, thus detracting from a vessels efficiency, increased fuel usage producing increased noxious emissions.

In short, overweight containers can and do present a risk to industry workers, to ships, to equipment, to operational reliability, to shippers of accurately declared shipments, to higher operating costs, to road safety problems, to higher liability claims, and to higher administrative costs.

The WSC and ICS jointly believe that the IMO should establish a universal international regulatory requirement that export cargo containers must be weighed by the marine terminal upon receipt and before vessel loading, and that the actual container weights be made available to the vessel operator and used for vessel stowage planning. A legal requirement to weigh stuffed containers is feasible and practical. The United States by law requires the weighing of every export container before a vessel is loaded, there seems no logical reson why all nations should not be bound by the same regulations.