USCG tells shippers not to expect delays to SOLAS container weight regulations
United States Coast Guard officials made it clear at a Federal Maritime Commission hearing Thursday in Washington, D.C. the shipping industry will have to comply with International Maritime Organization verified gross mass requirements on July 1.
In a hearing facilitated by the Federal Maritime Commission in Washington, D.C. Thursday, USCG Rear Admiral Paul Thomas made clear that the global regulation applies to the loading of ships, and that the Coast Guard won’t play a policing role in ensuring shippers are complying with the regulation.
That interaction will largely be determined by the commercial relationship between the ocean carrier, its shipper customers, and the container terminal where the ship is berthed.
The regulation, an amendment to the IMO’s long enforced Safety of Life at Sea convention called verified gross mass, requires that the “master shipper” on the bill of lading verify the weight of the container in one of two ways: by weighing the fully laden container or by calculating the weight of all cargo on the container and adding the tare weight of the container itself.
Both methods are fraught with problems, shippers and non-vessel-operating common carriers contend.
Thursday’s hearing brought a bevy of testimony from agriculture shippers who bemoaned the disruption and cost the verification process might bring to well-established supply chains. Donna Lemm, vice president of global sales at the freight forwarder Mallory Alexander told the hearing that there are issues with standardization of data transmission when it comes to submitting the weight verification document.
“Some carriers are saying to go their website to enter VGM, others saying to send it w/ shipping instructions,” she said. “There is no standard for VGM data flow.”
Robert Cannizzaro, from the liner carrier Hamburg Süd and chairman of the Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association, told the hearing that OCEMA has a container weight committee focusing on developing standards among its 17 carrier members. Among the committee’s targets are standards for the way carriers will receive the container weight verification document from the shipper of record, the cutoff time for accepting the document, and how the verification information will be shared with terminals to influence stowage plans.
The most striking part of the hearing, however, was that shippers and NVOs who spoke seemed to indicate that enforcement of the regulation must be delayed past July 1, while Thomas plainly said a delay is not going to happen.
That jives with secondhand information recently conveyed to American Shipper from IMO officials, who expressed incredulity at the suggestion that the global mandate might not go into effect on time.
Shippers advocates confided on the sidelines of the hearing Thursday that the industry will struggle to meet the deadline, and that such intense industry-wide focus on the regulation should have come six months earlier. They also said that one compromise would be a phased approach to enforcement, where shippers would have to adhere to the regulation on July 1, but that containers wouldn’t be denied loading until a later date.