SOLAS Update – U.S. Congress Asks Coast Guard to Clarify

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have each recently questioned the U.S. Coast Guard about the implementation of the new Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requirements that will go into effect on July 1 concerning verified container weights.

The US Coast Guard has come under fire for making conflicting statements about shipper’s liability in several Congressional hearings. 

Senator John Thune (R-SD) sent a letter to the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) asking them to “examine this issue, work with impacted stakeholders, and inform the (US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation) Committee of any appropriate actions to prevent unnecessary disruptions, delays or burdens” to shippers.  Senator Thune says that despite several committee hearings, and recent discussions and actions, there “continues to be uncertainty and concern” and that shippers view the preferred approach to “implementation as inflexible and inefficient.”  In addition, Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) expressed his frustration with the US Coast Guard’s at a recent hearing and asked carriers to work with shippers to find solutions well in advance of the July 1st deadline since many containers will already be in transit and subject to the new rule. 

The Coast Guard has determined that existing U.S. laws and regulations for providing verified container weights are equivalent to the requirements in SOLAS Regulation VI/2. The Coast Guard sent to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) a letter outlining its determination that its current regulatory regime provides for other entities within the container export chain to work in combination with the shipper to determine and verify container weight ships are loaded and operated safely. (See full bulletin.)

At first glance, this supports the notion that scrap recyclers will be able to continue to verify their container weights as they have been before the new SOLAS requirements. However, there is still some lingering concern about when shippers will be required to provide the verified gross mass (VGM), international regulatory uncertainty and whether or not the carriers will add any additional requirements outside of the Coast Guard’s jurisdiction.

Since then, several carriers and ports have asked the U.S. maritime regulator for permission to get together to craft a common strategy for dealing with SOLAS VGM requirements.  ISRI is monitoring this situation closely as various solutions are being floated to alleviate any disruptions at the ports. For more information about the SOLAS requirements, please contact Billy Johnson (BillyJohnson@ISRI.org) and Eric Harris (Ericharris@ISRI.org). 

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