US goes its own way on container weighing

April 9, 2016 — Leave a comment

World Cargo News reports  – While the Coast Guard maintains the US will be compliant with the SOLAS amendment on container weighing, US Shippers are interpreting guidance from US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Paul Thomas as confirmation they can continue with existing practice to declare the weight of their goods rather than weigh containers.

Following to the fallout over his comments at the Trans Pacific Maritime conference in Long Beach this month, Rear Admiral’s Thomas issued further guidance on the SOLAS amendment that requires containers to have a Verified Gross Mass before they are loaded on a vessel from 1 July.

The US Coast Guard (USCG) has since confirmed that SOLAS is binding on US shippers, but stated that how shippers work with carriers to obtain and report a VGM is a commercial matter for those parties to determine.

Some US shippers, including the US Agriculture Transport Coalition (ATC), have made it known it is not practical for them to supply, and be responsible for anything other than the weight of the cargo, as they do today. The Coast Guard appears to be facilitating this approach, and the ATC last month told its members it “received confirmation” from USCG that shippers can continue to verify the weight of the goods they own, while lines remain responsible for the weight of the container.

On March 14 some 49 groups and associations representing US primary producers, manufacturers, importers and shipper groups wrote to Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft saying they support its “interpretation” of the SOLAS amendment, as presented by Rear Admiral Tomas in his blog.

“Specifically, we support the Admiral’s view that if the shipper provides the cargo mass weight, to which the carrier adds the weight of the container, then the intent of SOLAS is achieved. In fact, several ocean carrier executives have advised that such a process would be practical.”

Some carriers, however, have rightly pointed out that this does not meet the SOLAS requirement, as the letter then notes: “The reason for our concern, and appreciation of Admiral Thomas’ guidance, is that some ocean carriers, citing this SOLAS amendment, are demanding that the shipper certify both the cargo and the carrier’s container. This is contrary to the practical realities of our US export maritime commerce and fundamentally flawed conceptually. (It would be similar to demanding that a soybean shipper certify to the railroad the weight of the railcar itself.)”

The groups maintain that they “fully understand our responsibility to accurately disclose the weights of cargo tendered to the ocean carriers. In fact, advance submission of accurate gross cargo weight is a well-established practice mandated by US Customs and Border Protection, by numerous intermodal (trucking and rail) weight requirements, and presently found in Shipper’s Instructions to carriers to meet so-called “no doc, no load” cargo cutoffs for entry into marine terminals. In addition, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Rule, in place since 1983, assures that the accurate weight of combined cargo and container be known to the carrier prior to loading.”

Despite SOLAS, the shipper groups do not see a need to weigh individual containers and suggest other solutions can be found: “for instance, shippers are willing to provide to their carriers an annual written confirmation in the service contract (or other mutually-agreed document) that our cargo weights are accurate”.

One of the major concerns is liability, in particular the requirement that someone now sign a VGM document. Shippers say carrier demands for this are being rejected. Many US Corporations will not allow their employee to certify the weight of and assume liability for equipment that the corporation does not own, manage, control and in fact may not even see.”

The Coast Guard, for its part, does not appear to be pushing the issue of current practice not meeting the new SOLAS requirements.

In his testimony at the US House Committee on Transport and Infrastructure’s hearing for the Coast Guard’s 2017 Budget request Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Commandant, USG made the following statement: “Foreign carriers are pretty much all in compliance today. When I was at the container terminal in Long Beach a month and half ago all the containers that come on to that yard are already weighed before they go in. So I am not seeing a sky is falling panacea playing out around us, but we need to make sure that there aren’t unintended consequences. That is why we are continuing to reach out with the many exporters…that container shows up on a manifest before it is loaded on a ship. What is needed is that final weight, but by and large most of these manifests already have that weight filled in in that column.”

The US, it appears, intends to continue to follow current practice where the shipper provides a declared weight of the cargo, leaving it to the carrier to determine the final weight of the container. Source: World Cargo News

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