SOLAS – BACK TO WHERE WE STARTED

The past few weeks have delivered significant progress on the SOLAS front. AgTC (Agriculture Transportation Coalition) was fearless in drawing the attention of the Federal Maritime Commission, Coast Guard, Congress, terminal operators and ocean carriers to recognize and accept the standards and processes currently in practice would meet the the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations set to take effect on July 1st.

 

Right now, terminal operators provide ocean carriers with loaded container weights. Ocean carriers are now quickly moving in the direction of accepting this weight to satisfy the VGM (verified gross mass) requirement.  Most lines have announced their acceptance of such this week.

 

So…before you start to panic today about your SOLAS readiness, or lack thereof, please check with your ocean carrier to confirm they are accepting the weights provided by the terminal.

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SOLAS – A SOFT START

Container Loading to ShipThe Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations, set to take effect on July 1st, require the shipper to provide the Verified Gross Mass (VGM) of the combined weight of the cargo, dunnage and container prior to cargo being loaded upon a vessel.

 

There has been considerable pressure on the rule making body, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), ocean carriers and terminal operators to find a better approach to the weight submission guidelines outlined in the rule.  As a refresher, SOLAS identified two options to calculate the VGM:  1) Weigh the cargo, packaging, pallets, dunnage and add in the tare weight of the container, or 2) weigh the loaded container and subtract the weight of the truck, chassis and fuel.  

 

US exporters have been pushing for alternatives to these two calculation methods. They contend providing the VGM in the manner dictated by the IMO is redundant to weight submission guidelines already present in the US.  Currently, exporters are required to provide the gross and net cargo weights, and terminals in the US are mandated by OSHA to weigh loaded containers.  As such, there are other options to obtain the VGM than those outlined by the IMO.  And, the US Coast Guard, the agency responsible for enforcement, agrees.

 

Given this pushback, the question of enforcement as well as differing interpretations around the world, the IMO has recommended “a practical and pragmatic approach when verifying compliance…for a period of three months after 1 July 2016.” The statement goes on to say this grace period is granted with the intention of “providing flexibility…to refine, if necessary, the procedures for documenting, communicating and sharing VGM information.

 

It would seem the hard stance of “no VGM, no load” is beginning to soften in favor of less disruptive compliance options.

SOLAS: WHERE WE STAND

Container LashingsAs a reminder, the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) rule requiring shippers worldwide to certify the combined weight of the cargo and container is set to go into effect on July 1, 2016.

The SOLAS rule outlines two methods to calculate the Verified Gross Mass (VGM) of the container and its contents.  One is to weigh the loaded container and subtract the weight of the truck, fuel, driver and chassis, and the other is to weigh the cargo, packaging and dunnage and add in the tare weight of the container.

There has been considerable push back from US shippers who argue they should only be required to provide the weight of the items under their control (cargo, packaging materials and dunnage) and not include the weight of the container, after all they neither own nor maintain the container.  In compliance with past weight regulations, shippers are already required to provide the gross and net weights of their cargo.

Ocean carriers, on the other hand, have stuck to the letter of the rule, which states the “shipper” is responsible for providing the VGM.

Enter the US Coast Guard, who last Friday issued a bulletin declaring “existing US laws and regulations for providing verified container weights are equivalent to the requirements in SOLAS.”  Translated this statement says the current means of achieving the VGM, where the shipper provides the net and gross cargo weights and ocean carriers add in the tare weight of the container, is perfectly acceptable.

NO SOLACE IN SOLAS

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Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations go into effect on July 1, 2016.  These are regulations enacted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) at the behest of the World Shipping Council (WSC) which require shippers to certify the Verified Gross Mass (VGM) of a container.  The VGM is the combined weight of the cargo, dunnage and container. And, by “certify,” the shipper is required to provide a signed certification verifying the accuracy of the weight calculation.  Furthermore, the signed party must be a specific, named individual representing the shipper and take responsibility for the accuracy of the weight.

 

US shippers currently provide both their net and gross cargo weights to the ocean carrier. However, they are reluctant to provide the VGM, which includes the weight of the container, as they neither own nor maintain this equipment. They contend providing the VGM will require them to “certify” a weight outside of their purview. What liability is the individual as well as the shipper accepting by this certification?  Another concern of the US shipper is cost.  The provision of a VGM by the the shipper to the ocean carrier will require new EDI transaction sets or manual processes for which there are increased costs to provide.

 

The Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association (OCEMA) recently developed their “best practices” for compliance with SOLAS. They are sticking to the letter of the SOLAS regulations. The ocean carrier is under no obligation to verify or provide the VGM.  The shipper must provide the VGM. OCEMA recommends shipper can get the weight of the container from side of the container itself or from the ocean carrier’s website and incorporate that number with their gross cargo weight to produce the VGM.  According to OCEMA, should the VGM be incorrect due to the weight of the container, the ocean carrier will not hold the shipper responsible.  How can they make that assertion? The ocean carrier collects the information but has no enforcement authority nor are they required to confirm the accuracy of the VGM provided.  So, how can they proclaim the shipper will not be held responsible?

 

No one should be surprised by OCEMA’s decision. After all, OCEMA and WSC (the primary author of SOLAS) are both comprised of a near-identical, long list of ocean carriers.  So, of course, they are going to absolve themselves of any responsibility in this process. It seems they prefer to reinvent the wheel rather than to employ common sense and utilize systems already in place.  Again, is anyone really surprised???

 

Oh, and need we mention, the impetus behind SOLAS was to deal with a small group of known commodities that consistently under-declare cargo weights. But, heck, let’s disrupt the entire industry.

TRYING TO KEEP UP WITH SOLAS

SOLASThe Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) rule requiring shippers worldwide to certify the weight of the cargo and container is set to go into effect on July 1, 2016.  Meanwhile, there are more questions than answers regarding its implementation and enforcement.

 

Will the implementation be postponed by a year? Can shippers use an average container weight provided by the ocean carrier for each container size to calculate the Verified Gross Mass (VGM)? Will the IMO accept two certifications, one from the shipper for the cargo and second from the ocean carrier for the container?  Will a variance be allowed, and if so, how much?  Will the rule require yet another, and different, cut off for information and cargo?  Will that cut off vary by ocean carrier?  How will the ocean carriers receive the weight information?  Will a terminal operator deny ingating a container without a certified weight already on file? Will terminal operators provide the service of weighing containers?  What are the penalties for non-compliance or misinformation?

 

With only four months until worldwide implementation, we are running out of time to get answers to these and the other myriad questions.