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Explaining the Latest SOLAS Rule Update

Explaining the Latest SOLAS Rule Update

An amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) making it mandatory to verify the weight of freight before shipping is running smoothly in most regions, after more than two months in operation.

The amendment by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) now requires that a packed container has a verified weight before being loaded on to a ship for export. To date, the SOLAS Verified Gross Mass (VGM) amendment is reportedly being implemented with only "minimal setbacks" across the world.

Problems in Asian region

However, a notable exception has been in China, where statistics show that 50% of all exports from one shipping line haven't contained all of the information required by the new VGM regulations.

The incomplete information has ranged from the weight of the container not being properly declared, to the shipper not having signed the relevant documents. It is reported that this hasn't caused "major issues" yet, as extra time has been permitted to resolve the errors.

The report concludes that there are "no major SOLAS VGM-related" issues in general. However, controls on the new VGM legislation are set to tighten up from 1st October, when the authorities may not be so lenient.

Teething problems

Concerns over the immediate implementation of the new rules spurred the International Maritime Organisation into agreeing to a "pragmatic and practical" approach for three months after the legislation came into effect on 1st July.

This approached was levelled at managing containers that were loaded before 1st July that wouldn't reach their final port until after that date. It was also to allow for possible teething problems with any software updates, communications systems and data sharing required by shipping companies.

Flexibility

The three-month period allowed packed containers that were loaded on to a ship before 1st July to be shipped to their final port without the VGM. It also permitted the flexibility to refine the procedures for documenting, communicating and sharing VGM information, without stopping any shipments from reaching their destination.

The flexibility in bringing in the new regulations would benefit countries such as New Zealand, where some 97% of trade is conducted by sea.

From next month, however, freight operators can expect the rules to be tightened up, with the appropriate penalties for those who don't comply.

The new rules mean that the VGM of each packed container must now be proven, taking into account the mass of all packages and cargo items and also the additional loading equipment and lashing material.

VERMAS messaging

The new regulation applies to all packed containers being loaded on to a ship that are subject to the International Convention for Safe Containers.

To assist in the compliance with the SOLAS rule update, a message-type called VERMAS has been introduced, in addition to the standard EDIFACT message-type. The VERMAS is used to communicate the VGM to all parties involved in the transport chain.

VGM: mandatory information

The mandatory information that must be transmitted includes the booking number, the verified weight, the unit of measurement, the container number and the authorised person.

Although the shipper named in the carrier's Bill of Lading is responsible for the VGM, as stated in the SOLAS guidelines, the authorised person named on the VGM must be authorised by the shipper, although not necessarily employed by them.

The shipper remains responsible for the verification of the gross mass of the container and for ensuring that the VGM is communicated to the carrier.

VGM: optional information

Additional optional information may also be transmitted via the VERMAS, including the weighing date, the weighing method, the shipper's internal reference and the ordering party.

It can be beneficial to include the weighing date, although it's not mandatory information, as defined by the SOLAS guidelines. The weighing date is a unique identifier for the freight and many international shipping operators recommend submitting the weighing date, as well as the mandatory information.

Penalties for non-compliance

Any containers that exceed the maximum payload, as indicated on the Safety Approval Plate and subject to the International Convention for Safe Containers, won't be loaded on to the vessel. It's the carrier's responsibility to check the VGM against the maximum container payloads.

Penalties are incurred when the VGM is not available. A container can't be loaded on to a vessel without its VGM having been obtained. If the VGM isn't available, the shipper is liable for any costs that occur, such as weighing, re-packing the cargo, storage and administrative expenses. There will also be regulatory penalties defined by the individual jurisdiction's legislation.