Wednesday, May 4, 2016

SOLAS Latest How and Where Export Freight Containers Are Being Dealt With Under VGM Scheme

With New Safety Regulations Coming In Globally Different Approaches Around The World
Shipping News Feature
WORLDWIDE – With the SOLAS launch date approaching rapidly, ports all around the globe are either rushing out their charges and solutions for weighing every container they are required to or, unfortunately in some cases, trying to avoid their responsibilities. This last batch may well be the long term losers if close geographical rivals agree to certify the mass of an export box for a reasonable rate by weighing it and issuing a Verified Gross Mass (VGM) certificate as required by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

For those still ignorant of the requirements, our previous stories (as with the links above) will help you catch up. The US seems to be the biggest problem area with several ports simply saying that it would be impossible to provide a weighing service, now however the Port of Charleston has broken ranks to say, if the US Coastguard finds it acceptable, the port can issue VGM’s having weighed containers on the port’s weighbridges and subtracted the tare mass i.e. the tare container weight plus the known weight of any equipment on the bridge carrying it.

If the loaded container can be placed directly on the weighbridge then lifted off again, this system seemingly complies completely with the IMO regulations as the tare weight written on the side of the container can be taken as correct by the shipper as that is the responsibility of the shipping company (and, provided the weighbridge’s accuracy is confirmed, the overall gross mass will be known). Alternatively the tractor unit and trailer bearing the container could be weighed going in, the box offloaded and the rig re-weighed on exit, the difference in weights being the exact VGM.

This then may prove to be the crack in the dam wall as far as the US ports resistance to the idea goes. It will be pretty shabby if the ports in a country which considers itself a world leader still refuses to accept their responsibility for supplying a VGM when everybody else seems to have little or no problem in adapting to the situation, which after all is only in place to save lives.

Elsewhere SOLAS rolls out piece by piece, Hong Kong Marine Department has issued guidance to ports and others who wish to utilise method one as to how to obtain approval via this link. Method two options are also fully explained in a .pdf which can be viewed here.

In the UK Forth Ports has confirmed it has invested in equipment to enable it to weigh boxes under method one and issue suitable VGM certificates export containers arriving at its terminals in Tilbury and Grangemouth although, unlike DP World and its flat £17.50 rate, it has not yet published tariffs showing the cost of the service. Stuart Wallace, Divisional Director of Forth Ports said:

“Recognising the importance of compliance and continuity of service for our customers, we are pleased to confirm that we will provide a weighing service to ensure our customers have a solution to the amended regulations, allied with safeguarding those engaged in the movement and transport of containerised goods. Both the Port of Grangemouth and London Container Terminal in Tilbury will weigh those boxes requiring VGM as part of the overall operational flow minimising any impact on our operational procedures at the interchange points."

The British International Freight Association (BIFA) has advised members that the Chinese authorities have detailed how method two is to be rigorously applied to export goods where suitable. The Chinese market differs from most others in that the huge amount of export goods leave usually in full loads and which have standard contents and packing, thus negating the need for weighing in port.

BIFA praises the Chinese move as ‘a step in the right direction’ in that it places emphasis where the IMO intended, on the shipper who will face the consequences if weights are wrongly declared. This is directly opposite to the initial reaction of the US Coastguard which said it was the shipping company’s responsibility which it clearly is not, and a position which it may now be going back on after a letter it has written to the IMO stating that it feels the US has sufficient systems in place, one of which is the Charleston solution detailed above.

This weighbridge resolution was lodged with the Coastguard by the South Carolina Ports Authority which runs the Port of Charleston and which quotes a rate for the service of $25 a box. Along with this solution the second point which the Coastguard raised with the IMO was to confirm the position of the American agricultural lobby led by the Agriculture Transportation Coalition. This states that, whilst the shipper would declare a weight of goods, it was up to the shipping line to provide a VGM having added the tare weight of their equipment.

This argument has been given short shrift by the shipping companies as a clear attempt for shippers to avoid  blame for inaccurate weights. One of the best defences was put up by APL which has issued a ‘handbook’ clarifying exactly the legal position and which provides a comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts. With its ‘NO VGM, NO LOAD’ banner the line is clearly delineating the responsibilities seen seemingly as mandatory by everyone except the aforementioned Agriculture Transportation Coalition, which will doubtlessly be viewed as backward by the rest of the world’s shipping community.

Photo: Courtesy of APL.