There’s a big change coming to container weight verification requirements. Starting on 1st July, the amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention, or SOLAS, will come into force, and there are things you need to be aware of.

Any shipper sending containers overseas will become responsible for establishing the total gross mass of their containers and communicating this weight (the Verified Gross Mass, or VGM) to the shipping lines and port authorities. If a shipper is unable to provide a VGM for any packed container, the container will not be loaded onto the vessel at the port of export and all costs will be incurred by the shipper: “No VGM, no load”.

This has come about as a result of some major accidents and incidents relating to overloaded containers. The IMO (International Maritime Organisation), working with representatives from across the industry, has decided to introduce these new weight verification rules, to prevent these accidents from occurring.

Previously, containers could be loaded onto export vessels with a declared weight that wasn’t checked or verified. This lax attitude meant that shippers often used estimates or simply guessed the weight or their goods and packed containers before sending them off to the port. Containers’ real weights would be wildly different to the ones given to the shipping lines and, as a result, the stowage plans they made for the vessels would be based on dangerously inaccurate weights, thus resulting in ships listing or even capsizing with overloaded containers tipping the ship’s precarious balance.

By implementing these new rules however, the IMO hopes to iron out these inaccuracies and reign in rogue weight declaration by introducing a punitive and stringent attitude towards declared container weights. The SOLAS amendments put the responsibility of communicating a VGM firmly with the shipper of the goods, who has the following responsibilities as a result of these new rules:

  1. A shipper, or whoever is listed on the Bill of Landing or Sea Waybill, is the one who is responsible for providing the VGM to the port or shipping line before the cut-off time. For most ports, this cut-off time is 24 hours before the arrival of the export vessel at the port of export (this exception to this rule being Liverpool Peel Ports, who require the VGM before the container has arrived at the port).
  2. Each VGM document must show the container number, seal number, number of pieces, and the container’s tare weight, which has been stamped on to every container. It must also show the total weight of all the loaded goods, not forgetting to include the weight of any equipment used to secure the goods, such as bracing, skids, dunnage and the pallets on which the goods are fastened. This total weight represents the container’s total gross mass.
  3. Whether you’re shipping tank containers, regular containers, bulk containers or flat racks, the rules still apply.
  4. Any scale used for cargo weight measurement must be certified and calibrated according to national standards.

The SOLAS regulations prescribe two methods with which to establish this VGM:

  • Method 1: Weighing the fully packed container using calibrated and certified weighing equipment (e.g. weighbridges or port weighing facilities. Please check with your local providers for more information)
  • Method 2: Weighing all the packages and cargo items, including the mass of the pallets, dunnage and other securing material to be packed in the container and adding the tare mass of the container to this total, suing certified and calibrated scales.

Shippers wishing to use Method 2 must apply for an authorisation number with the Maritime & Coastguard Agency, which gives them certified shipper status and is an acknowledgement that all their weighing equipment is calibrated and certified to national standards. For further information and guidance on this application process please don’t hesitate to contact Staples International.

The implementation of these amendments is sure to be slightly chaotic to begin with but we, at Staples, firmly believe that they are some of the most positive changes to affect the shipping industry for a number of years. We see them as a way of increasing supply chain security, highlighting added value and ensuring that it is much harder to cut corners in a more regulated and safer shipping environment.

Should you have any further questions about the SOLAS amendments and VGM submissions, please don’t hesitate to contact Staples International’s team of highly trained export specialists, who will help guide you through the process and advise you on a bespoke basis.