Is Mandatory Weight Verification of Shipping Containers on the Way?
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is currently working to address a serious problem that faces the international shipping industry: misdeclared container weights.
Containers with weights that are misdeclared present serious safety and financial risks. What’s more, the weight of containers are commonly misdeclared.
In 2010, the World Shipping Council (WSC) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) released a joint statement on the issue calling for a strong international solution from the IMO. In the statement, the WSC and ICS explain how prevalent and dangerous the misdeclared shipping container weight problem is:
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.
The problems resulting from overweight containers include the following:
- Incorrect vessel stowage decisions
- Restowage of containers (and resulting delays and costs), if the overweight condition is ascertained
- Collapsed container stacks
- Containers lost overboard (both the overweights and containers that were not overweight)
- Cargo liability claims
- Chassis damage
- Damage to ships
- Stability and stress risks for ships
- Risk of personal injury or death to seafarers and shoreside workers
- Impairment of service schedule integrity
- Supply chain service delays for shippers of properly declared containers
- 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.
- Lost revenue and earnings
- Liability for accidents and fines for overweights on roads, and resulting time and administrative efforts and costs to seek reimbursement from responsible parties
- Impairment of vessels’ optimal trim and draft, thus causing impaired vessel efficiency, suboptimal fuel usage, and greater vessel air emissions.
The WSC and ICS summed up the situation as follows:
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.
That statement urging the IMO to come up with a solution happened three years ago. So what’s happened in the meantime?
In 2011, the WSC and ICS returned to the issue and submitted a joint proposal to the IMO to make it a regulation that shipping containers be weighed to find out their actual weight before being stowed on ships.
At the May 2011 meeting of the IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 89), it was “agreed to establish a new work item to address the issue of incorrectly declared cargo shipments and to undertake other measures to improve the safety of container stowage and ship operations,” according to the World Shipping Council website.
This work item to address container weighing was assigned to the IMO Sub-Committee on Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes and Containers (DSC).
Again, the WSC and ICS got to work on submitting a recommendation, this time in the form of a paper with the help of the shipping association BIMCO, that suggested amendments to the Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS) Convention which would require weights of shipping containers be verified before they are stowed aboard ships.
By the end of 2011, the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) showed their support for the proposed SOLAS amendments.
In 2012, came a formal proposal to the IMO for the amending of the SOLAS convention to require weight verification of shipping containers before they’re loaded on ships from industry stakeholders including the governments of Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United States, and a group of five maritime industry associations led by the World Shipping Council. Germany submitted an alternative proposal.
The IMO’s DSC considered both proposals. A compromise proposal was developed that included amending the SOLAS Convention with a verification of loaded shipping container weights before loading those containers on vessels for export.
The compromise proposal was pretty popular, but opposed by Cyprus, Greece, and Panama–all three being member nations of the IMO.
A correspondence group was then established, with the U.S. sitting as chair, to rework the compromise proposal for consideration again in 2013.
Which brings us to the present. The correspondence group submitted its report in June to present “amendments to SOLAS regulatation VI/2 related to mandatory verification of gross weight of containers; to develop implementing guidelines; to identify any issues that may arise” for consideration at the September 2013 meeting of the DSC.
The Journal of Commerce reported:
The European and Asian shippers’ councils have urged UN maritime officials to reject proposals for the mandatory weighing and verification of ocean containers before they are loaded on board ship.
The shipper groups, claiming to represent 75 percent of the global container trade, urge the IMO and their DSC to reject the proposals saying, “One hundred percent checks are not feasible in practice and will not address the root causes of the accidents at sea.”
They added in a statement, “Making weight verification mandatory will merely add to the costs, resulting in undue delays in the supply chain without significantly decreasing the risk of occurrence of such accidents,” according to JOC.
The IMO is expected to approve mandatory weigh-ins for shipping containers despite the opposition from many in the international shipping industry as 15 governments and 13 industry groups have come together in proposal of amending the SOLAS Convention to have loaded shipping containers weighed before loading on ships to solve the misdeclared container weight problem.
There may be a few battles fought before implementation of any weigh-in system takes place.
Container shipping is a specialty of Universal Cargo Management. No matter how this all plays out, we will continue to give international shippers excellent service on the import and export of shipping containers of goods.