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Scrap Container Shippers Must Provide “Gross Verified Weight” to Export, or Not?

As the effective date of July 1, 2016 to verify and provide the container’s gross verified weight to the ocean carrier and port terminal representative prior to being loaded on a ship draws near, the issue of compliance is heating up for the U.S. Coast Guard as the lead agency in charge of enforcing International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS.)

As background, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted mandatory amendments to SOLAS (Chapter VI, Part A, Regulation 2 –cargo information.  The SOLAS convention is applicable international law.  The rules will be enforced by maritime authorities of individual nations and such regulations may vary.  In the U.S., the Coast Guard implements and enforces such regulations. Those regulations are not yet in place.  There are two methods of determining gross weight are allowed:

Method No. 1:  Upon the conclusion of packing and sealing a container, the shipper may weigh, or have arranged that a third party weighs, the packed container.  

Method No.2: The shipper (or, by arrangement of the shipper, a third party), may weigh all packages and cargo items, including the mass of pallets, dunnage, and other packing and securing material to be packed in the container, and add the tare mass of the container to the sum of the single masses using a certified method.

Shippers shall ensure the verified gross mass in the shipping document that is: (1) signed by a person duly authorized by the shipper; and, (2) submitted to the carrier and the terminal representative, in advance and as required by the carrier.  Shippers will likely be able to submit the verified gross mass electronically to carriers in order to avoid potential bottlenecks at the ports come July 2016. 

Sounds simple enough but recent comments from the U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Paul Thomas has many shippers scratching their heads as to how best to move forward.  Rear Adm. Thomas recently stated that “SOLAS places no legal obligation on the shipper.  It places a legal obligation only on the vessel subject to SOLAS. So if you need to meet that obligation by working on a better business practice with your partners, that’s where you need to focus.”

“The Coast Guard’s position is that SOLAS regulation does not apply to shippers and require them to provide a signed VGM, and terminals are not required to enforce what the SOLAS regulation says.”  Thomas said the Coast Guard will continue to do port state control examinations, but “on July 1 in terms of our enforcement actions, nothing will change.”    

Asked if shippers could comply with the regulation by having containers weighed by the existing weigh scales at terminals and what is the certification requirement under the SOLAS amendment for scales, Thomas said there is a lot of flexibility in how the treaty can be interpreted and he did not want to set policy, both because he has authority only over U.S. flag ships and also because he did not want to “limit flexibility with regard to your business practices.”  The Coast Guard lacks authority to “regulate or require under SOLAS anything from domestic terminal operators or shippers.”

ISRI is working with a number of affected industries that are puzzled by the Coast Guard’s statements and seek clarification as to how to comply and to what extent the Coast Guard plans to enforce the new SOLAS requirements.  For further information on SOLAS, please contact Eric Harris and Billy Johnson.

1 Comment

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