East West Manufacturing Blog

One Month In: Are New SOLAS Regulations Rocking the Boat?

Written by Mary-Kerstin Hassiotis | August 04, 2016

Can you imagine watching a tall stack of shipping containers collapse before your eyes? Sounds terrifying, right? It has certainly been known to happen – in fact, it is estimated that up to 10,000 containers fall overboard each year. While lost-at-sea containers aren't the only reason for new SOLAS regulations, this issue is certainly one of many that prompted a change.

In an effort to improve maritime safety, new rules for weighing shipping containers went into effect on July 1, 2016. One month later we're checking in on how the new rules are playing out. We'll recap the new regulations and then dive into a status update. 

Photo Source

What is SOLAS?

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea is an international treaty that addresses the safety of merchant ships, per the International Maritime Organization (IMO) website. The IMO is the maritime division of the United Nations (UN).

Since its creation in 1914 (following the sinking of the Titanic), the treaty has been amended and updated over the years. As of 2016, the treaty applies to 170 countries across the globe. 

New SOLAS Convention Regulations

The latest regulations, which went into effect on July 1, 2016, require shippers (the party listed on the bill of lading) to provide a verified gross mass (VGM) for each shipping container prior to vessel loading.

Why the New SOLAS Regulations Matter

If you're thinking it sounds odd that shipping weight verification is just now a requirement in 2016, let me clarify this for you: weight declarations have been mandatory for years, but verification of declared weights is the new distinction.

The change was sparked by years of issues caused by incorrectly declared weights, which can cause a slew of safety concerns for vessels and crew members alike. Prior to the implementation of new regulations, The Loadstar estimated that about 10 percent of shipments declare inaccurate weights. With the emergence of "mega ships," some of which can carry up to 20,000 TEUs (!!), the importance of recording accurate container weights is increasing. 

Whenever you feel frustrated by the new rules, just imagine one of these containers is yours, and you'll change your tune.
Photo Source: Investigate Magazine 

How to Comply with SOLAS

Shippers must provide VGM for each container either before delivery or at the terminal prior to vessel loading. Two basic weighing methods exist:

Method 1 |  Weigh the loaded container, including goods, packaging and dunnage. This can be done using a truck scale (also called a weighbridge). An alternate method is to use a container-jack weigher.

Method 2 |  Weigh the empty container and its contents individually. In this case, the empty shipping container is weighed, and its tare (empty) weight is then added to the total weight of the goods and packing material that will fill it. Weight can be measured using a forklift, bench or floor scale.

Note: The convention includes regulations regarding the proper calibration and maintenance of weighing devices to ensure all declared VGMs are accurate. The appropriate weights and measures organizations should be called upon to check that these criteria are met.

Non-Compliance Consequences

Each country's governing maritime body is responsible for assuring that containers comply with the new rules. Any container whose weight has not been verified will not be loaded onto the booked cargo vessel. The shipper in violation then has the option to either verify the weight of the container immediately or delay shipment until a later sailing. As of July 1, 2016, failure to verify a container's weight will result in a fine.

To sum up all these details in a visual, here's a handy infographic, courtesy of JOC.com:

So, How's It Going So Far?

According to JOC.com, nearly 50 percent of shipments freight forwarder Kuehne + Nagel received in China the first week of July were missing information, from container VGMs to shipper signatures. While no delays were reported, each shipper had to be contacted to provide the missing information before the containers could be approved for loading. 

One subject of contention around the new rules has been forwarders' fees for recording VGM data, whether through an online portal, on a mobile app or manually. Some shippers view the additional fees as gratuitous and believe forwarders are taking advantage of the situation. But, improved safety comes at a higher cost. Additional resources are needed to ensure compliance, and more time is needed to carry out weighing procedures and complete paperwork. The debate between shippers and forwarders is still ongoing. 

Overall, the new regulations are doing their job to improve safety conditions -- not only on the seas, but also on the roads. Incorrectly declared container weights have been known to wreak havoc on roads, from damaged trucks and chassis to overweight fees and cracked pavement. 

Despite higher initial costs, the long-term effect of the regulations will ultimately be 1) safer freight on oceans and roads and 2) decreased costs as vessels, trucks and roads last longer as a result of minimized overloading.

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