Amendment to SOLAS Regulations – Verified Gross Mass
This seemingly innocuous piece of legislation passed through the IMO Assembly without causing a ripple, but that was over 5 years ago. It was only until about a year ago that the maritime world woke up to the implication of this very small amendment. It simply re-affirmed the ‘shippers’ responsibility to advise the shipping line the actual weight of his cargo, but this time stipulated the ‘mass’ had to be verified by certified weighing equipment. It was to be introduced on 1st July, come hell or high water!
Hereby hangs the tale, how could this simple task be accomplished, even within our own sophisticated shores we simply did not have the available facilities. The list of public weigh bridges on the Governments own website was woefully out of date, and the amount of deviation each container truck would have to make beggared belief. Our exporters were facing significant cost implications. In the forwarding world our national association BIFA took a leading role together with others involved in the maritime sector such as the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers.
It was clear to all concerned that the obvious place to really weigh the containers would be at arrival at the export port, that being the first place the container is actually lifted. However, unfortunately many of the ports were slow to react which was surprising, as we could have expected that they would have identified this as a relatively easy to achieve revenue stream as soon as the legislation was approved all those years ago.
Thankfully the various trade bodies got together and the ports finally reacted (some at the 11th hour), and all the UK’s major ports now offer a container weighing facility. In general, it can be reported that the UK has complied with the requirement without any undue problems, or cargoes being left on the quayside.
However, the same cannot be said for the rest of the world, as in my role as President of the Federation of National Associations of Ship Brokers and Agents (FONASBA), I conducted a survey among our 56 member nations. Many of our European counterparts (such as Germany, Holland, Belgium and France) waited to see how the regulation would be applied and managed in UK and to the most part copied our formula. Some may be surprised to learn that in France even in September only somewhere between 50/80% of containers had declared VGM! In Sweden they have yet to nominate their designated authority to implement the regulations. Many countries are still struggling with implementation, in particular with the transmission of information, and some are resorting to passing pieces of paper slowing port productivity. The 3-month grace period is now over and we could soon see that cargo may start to be shutout and left on the terminals around the world, which could clearly affect imports into the UK.
John Foord FICS – Director Purple Cargo Ltd.