January 2015 – The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has amended the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) to require, as a condition for loading a packed container onto a ship for export, that the container has a verified weight. The shipper is responsible for the verification of the packed container’s weight. This requirement will become legally effective on July 1, 2016. After that date, it would be a violation of SOLAS to load a packed container onto a vessel if the vessel operator and marine terminal operator do not have a verified container weight.
The SOLAS amendments provide that there are two methods shippers may use to determine the container weight once the container packing process has taken place. This requirement will apply globally. Shippers, freight forwarders, vessel operators, and terminal operators will all need to establish policies and procedures to ensure the implementation of this regulatory change.
Because there have been questions about what the specific nature of the SOLAS changes are, the World Shipping Council provides the following basic synopsis of the SOLAS requirement.
Basic Principles Under the SOLAS Requirement
1. Before a packed container can be loaded onto a ship, its weight must be determined through weighing.1 It is a violation of SOLAS to load a packed container aboard a vessel to which SOLAS applies without a proper weight verification. There is no exception to this requirement.
2. Under the SOLAS amendments, there are two permissible methods for weighing:
• Method 1, which requires weighing the container after it has been packed, or
• Method 2,2 which requires weighing all the cargo and contents of the container and adding those weights to the container’s tare weight as indicated on the door end of the container.
3. Estimating weight is not permitted. The shipper (or by arrangement of the shipper, a third party) has a responsibility to weigh the packed container or to weigh its contents. Under either Method, the weighing equipment used must meet national certification and calibration requirements. Further, the party packing the container cannot use the weight somebody else has provided, except in one specific set of defined circumstances.3
4. A carrier may rely on a shipper’s signed weight verification to be accurate. The carrier does not need to be a “verifier” of the shipper’s weight verification. Nor do the SOLAS amendments require a carrier to verify that a shipper providing a verified weight according to Method 2 has used a method which has been certified and approved by the competent authority of the jurisdiction in which the packing and sealing of the container was completed. However, it is important to note that, for the shipper’s weight verification to be compliant with the SOLAS requirement, it must be “signed”, meaning a specific person representing the shipper is named and identified as having verified the accuracy of the weight calculation on behalf of the shipper.4
5. The lack of a signed shipper weight verification can be remedied by weighing the packed container at the port. If the marine terminal does not have equipment to weigh the container and provide a verified weight, alternative means must be found to obtain a verified container weight; otherwise, the packed container may not be loaded on to the ship.5
6. When a marine terminal receives a packed export container that does not have a signed shipper weight verification, there will need to be processes in place at the terminal for obtaining the weight of such containers and using such weights in the vessel stow plan. Terminals and carriers will need to agree on how these situations will be handled. documenting the verified gross mass of a packed container, situations may occur where a packed container is delivered to a port terminal facility without the shipper having provided the required verified gross mass of the container. Such a container should not be loaded onto the ship until its gross mass has been obtained. In order to allow the efficient onward movement of such containers, the master or his representative and the terminal representative may obtain the verified gross mass of the packed container on behalf of the shipper. This may be done by weighing the packed container in the terminal or elsewhere. The verified gross mass so obtained should be used in the preparation of the ship loading plan. Whether and how to do this should be agreed between the commercial parties, including the apportionment of costs involved.” IMO Guidelines, paragraph 19. 6 “Any discrepancy between a packed container’s gross mass declared prior to the verification of its gross mass and its verified gross mass should be resolved by use of the verified gross mass.” IMO Guidelines, paragraph 13. “Any discrepancy between a verified gross mass of a packed container obtained prior to the container’s delivery to the port terminal facility and a verified gross mass of that container obtained by that port facility’s weighing of the container should be resolved by use of the latter verified gross mass obtained by the port terminal facility.” IMO Guidelines, paragraph 14.