Multiple organizations in the shipping industry and government agencies have continued working tirelessly to come up with procedures that will help in dealing more effectively with the implementation of the Safety of Life at Seas (SOLAS) Convention that gets implemented on July 1, 2016.   Please refer to articles previously published on our website for specific details about SOLAS requirements.

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), the SOLAS enforcement agency in the United States issued a communique on April 28, 2016 indicating that current U.S. laws and regulations for providing verified container weights would be in compliance with the SOLAS requirements.  It has been the Coast Guard’s position that multiple entities involved in the supply chain can work in tandem with the shipper to determine the container weight and provide it to steamship companies for compliance with SOLAS.

On June 16, 2016 the Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Mario Cordero made an announcement on the agency’s behalf which included the following statements:  “the weight of export containers, as determined by terminal operators, can and should be classified as the Verified Gross Mass (VGM) of the container”.   “There is a course to SOLAS VGM compliance provided by the Coast Guard that is not only not burdensome, it requires no additional action at all. Why anyone would add procedures, requirements and costs to doing business is not only puzzling, it raises the specter of anticompetitive behavior and necessitating Commission action”.   “Using the weight taken at the terminal gate for the purposes of satisfying the need for a verified weight of a container is a simple and efficient solution for assuring the continued smooth flow of export cargoes.”  “Carriers should not only accept weights determined by terminal operators for complying with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) amendment that mandates providing verified container weights, but the shipping lines should also streamline the transmission of the information”.  “In the interest of furthering efficiencies, weights determined at terminal gates for the purposes of SOLAS VGM compliance should be transmitted directly from the terminal operator to the shipping line, not provided to the shipper to then present to the carrier.  The quickest route between two points is a straight line and that applies to data flow as much as it does to navigation. It only makes sense to have a direct reporting of container weights from the terminal operator to the ocean carrier.”

The Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association (OCEMA), a group of 19 major ocean common carriers, also recently announced that it will amend its Best Practice guidelines to include the use of port and terminal scales to determine the “verified gross weight” and to pass it directly to the carrier.   According to statistics, OCEMA controls 80% of the total market share.   However, the National Association of Waterfront Employers (NAWE) has expressed concerns about weighing responsibilities, operational and liability issues, and port congestion as a result of the additional work that they are now being expected to perform.

This new approach to SOLAS should facilitate compliance and help prevent shipping delays in certain cases, but it does not imply in any way that shippers are no longer responsible for complying with SOLAS requirements.   In situations where port facilities or terminal operators cannot weigh cargo to determine the VGM, and unless the shipper has submitted a container weight verification that includes the VGM, the container will not be loaded onto the vessel, unless an exemption is granted under the unofficial three-month grace period.

SOLAS processes and procedures seem to be headed in the right direction here in the United States, however, the global application of the SOLAS requirements still remain an unknown factor at this time as countries interpret the rules in their own way and implement regulations on their own as well.