The Port of Felixstowe has confirmed that it will offer a container weighing service to ensure UK shippers are able to comply with the new SOLAS regulations that come into effect on 1 July 2016
The new SOLAS Chapter VI regulation requiring the shipper (or other named party in the Bill of Lading – normally a freight forwarder/NVOCC) – to supply the shipping line with a verified gross mass (VGM) declaration before the container can be loaded aboard the ship comes into force on 1st July. As widely reported, there is widespread concern that shippers will not be ready.
Commenting on the new service that Felixstowe will provide, Stephen Abraham, the port’s COO, said: “We have met with many customers and from their feedback it is clear that there is still a lot of uncertainty amongst exporters about the new rules.
“The rules have the potential to cause significant disruption to export supply chains. To help avoid this, we have decided to provide a service where export containers can be weighed at the port before being loaded. We will provide further details about how the weighing service will work in good time to ensure all exporters can be compliant by the time the new rules come into force.”
The service at the port will be available to containers arriving either by road or rail. This is important as, through its railheads, Felixstowe is the UK’s largest intermodal rail terminal; 40% of all laden export containers arrive at the port by rail.
To provide the weighing service, Felixstowe will use a spreader twistlock-based system, although the supplier of the system and the number of RTG and intermodal RMG spreaders that will be equipped with it has not been confirmed.
The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which is the responsible authority for the VGM as regards UK containerised export shipments, requires all weighing equipment used to provide a VGM, whether by Method 1 or Method 2, to be calibrated to within +/- 0.1% of the true mass of the loaded container (Method 1) or by calcuation based on the sum weights of the individual cargo items being packed and associated dunnage, lashing chains, etc (Method 2).
When, at the end of 2010, the International Chamber of Shipping first launched its campaign for all containers to be weighed before ocean carriage, it was assumed that the weighing would take place in ports – naturally, as ports are where most container lifting equipment is based.
However, port operators – including, and not least, Felixstowe – successfully resisted this, which ultimately resulted in IMO formulating Method 2. While the road to IMO arriving at Method 1 and Method 2 is “history,” the key point is that port operators, freed of a legal obligation to weigh loaded export containers, are thereby free to offer a Method 1 weighing service on a commercial basis.
Irrespective of the technology employed, there are several issues around port weighing. What happens if, for example, when the port [any port, not just Felixstowe] weighs the export container for the purpose of providing the VGM and finds that the weight made the container illegal for road carriage to the port? Does the port have a legal obligation to inform the road traffic authorities [the police in the UK]; or is the onus on the shipping line, whose customer the “offending” shipper/NVOCC is?
That information is also “historic,” in the sense that in order to weigh the overloaded container in the port, it must be assumed that the truck arrived safely at the port, and that particular (unique) illegal truck trip to the export port has gone forever. The remaining problem, however, is that the VGM provided by the port may indicate that the weight of the container makes it illegal for on-carriage by road or rail in the port of unloading.
Asked to comment on this by WorldCargo News, Paul Davey, Head of Corporate Affairs, Hutchison Ports (UK), made a crucial point. “As regards legality for road carriage in all possible overseas destinations, we [at Felixstowe] would not know, for example, whether the container will leave the port of destination or is unstuffed in the port. If it leaves the port [without being unstuffed] we won’t know whether the on-carriage would be by road, rail or any other mode, so there is nothing we could do.”
This is key as it throws the real responsibility for enforcing the VGM on the carriers, who demanded compulsory weighing in the first place. They will be under a legal obligation not to accept a loaded container unless it has VGM documentation.
It follows logically that carriers know the VGM mass of all loaded containers they ship. If, on the way to destination from the port of import, due to gross overloading of the container, the truck jackknifes or overturns, with all the safety risks that entails, the carrier could be liable and open to criminal prosecution.
Thus, there can be no question of “shipper appeasement,” but it could end up in a lawyer’s free-for-all involving anyone providing the VGM if it transpires that the VGM data were incorrect. Suppose, for example, the carrier relied on VGM data provided on a commercial basis by the port of export and it transpired, following a road accident investigation in the country of import that the real weight exceeded the VGM and likely caused the accident.
As to the commercial possibilities for ports providing a VGM service, Felixstowe has not given any information on the price it will charge, but (by way of example) Yarimca in Turkey is advertising US$12 to weigh a container, according to its tariff notice.
Policy responses by port operators will vary enormously according to local context and assessment of risk and benefit. In New York/New Jersey – where loaded containers are mosly imports – Maher Terminals has advised customers that loaded export containers will not be accepted after the July 1st deadline whitout a VGM in advance, as part of the booking process.
PSA Antwerp, which is also offering a VGM service, has stated that it may, at its discretion, “strip and restuff a container so that it complies with the SOLAS requirements. The customer will pay an appropriate compensation to PSA for any such stripping/restuffing of a container and/or determining its VGM.”
The new SOLAS Ch VI imposes no obligation on terminals to weigh containers they unload. All the same, as regards imports, PSA Antwerp says: “If PSA loads a container onto a truck, it can never be held liable for additional expenses and/or fines associated with the (excess) weight of the container/truck combination.
“Any such additional expenses and/or fines will never be borne by PSA and the customer will pay an appropriate compensation to PSA for any such additional expenses and/or fines incurred by it and/or for determining the weight of the container/truck combination.” Source: WorldCargoNews