VGM – less than 15% of IMO Member States have issued guidelines to enforce container weighing

VGMWith under one month to go until the SOLAS verified gross mass (VGM) regulation enters in force, less than 15% of International Maritime Organization (IMO) Member States have issued guidelines on how they plan to enforce the amendment, according to the International Cargo Handling Co-ordination Association (ICHCA).

The amendment, which will enter into force on July 1, 2016, will require shippers to obtain and declare the VGM for each packed container before it can be loaded onto a ship.

Captain Richard Brough, technical advisor to ICHCA International, said: “As July 1 approaches we see an increasing number of terminal operators announcing the service options they will offer to shippers to facilitate determining the VGM of export containers.”

Despite the efforts of lifting equipment suppliers, carriers and forwarders to engage positively and identify the most appropriate way to comply, Mr Brough said that sadly, where compliance is a shared responsibility, communication between all the different parties has too often been “acrimonious rather than collaborative”.

As a result, contingency planning is now crucial for all stakeholders to avoid a potentially disastrous impact on the container supply chain, he added.

It was suggested at a recent ICHCA seminar that the key to successful implementation of the VGM requirements is close communication and co-operation between governments and all industry stakeholders.

Mike Yarwood, claims expert at TT Club, said: “Behavioural change through all aspects of the supply chain is required. Weight is a relatively small element of broader initiatives to engender safety and improve operational performance.” Source: Port Strategy

UK drops VGM accuracy requirement

MCA LogoThe UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency has dropped the tolerances it was considering for weighing equipment used to weigh a container for the new SOLAS VGM requirement.

One of the issues that has been holding some terminals back from investing in equipment to weigh containers is the lack of any clarity over the accuracy standards that equipment must meet. SOLAS says only that equipment must “meet the applicable accuracy standards and requirements of the State in which the equipment is being used”.

The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) had been consulting on a proposal for two weighing tolerances for equipment used to generate a Verified Gross Mass (VGM) using method 1 (weighing the container):

  • +/- 400kg up to 20T then +/- 2%
  • +/- 300kg up to 15T then +/- 2%

Sources involved in the process say some port operators and weighing equipment suppliers had expressed concerns these tolerances were unreasonable. MCA has this week issued new guidance on the VGM requirement, including a procedure for applying for approval to use Method 2 (weighing cargo items and calculating the total weight of a container).

The MCA has dropped any requirement for a specific accuracy level, opting instead to set an enforcement level. It stated: “The verified gross mass should be as accurate as reasonably practical taking into account methodology and operational variances. The MCA has set an enforcement tolerance of ±5% or ±500kg, whichever is the greater value to avoid disruption within the supply chain, however this value is for enforcer’s guidance only and it is the shipper’s responsibility to be as accurate as possible”.

Method 1 equipment includes “weighbridges, or lifting equipment fitted with load cells, or other approved weighing equipment to determine a loaded container’s Verified Gross Mass (VGM)”. Unlike other jurisdictions the MCA has not stated that it requires two 20ft containers on a trailer to be weighed separately, or said anything about how the weight of the truck and trailer is to be obtained. It stated only that “Calculations may be used as part of the method 1 process”, so these items do not in fact need to be weighed as part of the VGM process.

With regard to certification and enforcement, the MCA states: “ Method 1 users are required, on request by the MCA or other body, to provide both of the following:

  • Evidence that the weighing equipment has been supplied/maintained for the purpose of determining the VGM of a loaded container and is capable of producing a ticket (electronic record). Each ticket must include the container number, the VGM of the container, and the procedures for, and records of, any calculations which have been made. If this information is produced as an electronic record, it is essential that it is able to be produced without delay as a paper document.
  • Records kept of maintenance and verification (calibration) procedures, including any corrective / remedial actions taken.

The full guidance and other documentation can be found at this link. Source: WorldCargoNews

US goes its own way on container weighing

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

Preparing for legislation on verification of container weights

High quality 3D render shipping container during transportPort Technology International – The work by the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), within the auspices of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), on the verification of container weights prior to loading on to a ship is progressing. Currently, expectations are that legislation will come into force in 2017 at the latest, and possibly in 2016.

Many terminal operators are concerned about how to comply with the upcoming legislation, and how it will impact on logistic flows in terminals.

One of the challenges facing terminals is how to weigh containers with little or no impact on operations. Transferring containers to separate weighing stations will affect productivity. Terminals are likely to need additional space and transportation capacity to cope effectively.

Solutions that weigh containers as part of existing logistic flows and operations will therefore deliver significant advantages for terminal operators.

Weighing alternatives

This article outlines technologies that are available for managing weighing or verifying weight. It should be noted that requirements for weight accuracy is not included in the current draft text from the IMO and will likely put further constraints on available options. The discussion here indicates what level of accuracy can be expected from the various options available.

Three different types of weighing or load measurement devices will be discussed: commonly available weigh bridges; load sensing devices in cranes and other lifting equipment and load sensing devices fitted to, or integrated into spreader twistlocks.

Weigh bridges

The first system that comes to mind when looking at weighing a container is the weigh bridge. Weigh bridges are a longestablished and recognised technology to measure the weight of a vehicle. When the weight of the container being carried by a vehicle is of interest, the tare weight of the vehicle must be deducted. The measuring accuracy of the weigh bridge is very high but the tare weight deduction process either introduces additional inaccuracies or becomes complicated and time consuming.

If a standard vehicle tare weight is used, the inaccuracy comes from such things as variations in fuel level, driver weight and the weight of miscellaneous materials also loaded in the vehicle. These may seem like minor aspects when considering a truck carrying a 40ft container, but it easily adds up to a few hundred kilos, thereby significantly affecting the accuracy of the container weighing process. The alternative to using a standard tare weight is to include weighing of the unloaded vehicle in the process. This will give an accurate vehicle tare weight and ultimately, an accurate container weight, but it adds steps to the process which takes time and uses terminal resources.

Using weigh bridges to weigh containers is likely to result in changes to the internal logistics of most existing terminals. All containers entering terminals by road would have to pass through the weighing station. The most critical factor in this scenario would be to have sufficient weigh bridges to avoid the bottlenecks and resulting congestion.

Containers arriving by train or sea (for transhipment) would have to be sent to a weighing station, a step which is uncommon in terminal logistics today. This additional step would tie transporting vehicles to specific containers for longer periods of time ultimately resulting in additional resources being needed to handle the same container volumes. Sufficient resources in terms of weigh bridges and transportation space therefore need to be allocated to avoid congestion
and delays.

Another situation which would require a specific process to be in place is where vehicles arrive at the terminal gate with two twenty-foot containers loaded. Weigh bridges can only determine combined weight. Because containers have to be weighed separately, this would imply a relatively complicated process involving not only the truck carrying the equipment but also terminal resources to facilitate the loading and unloading of the containers.

Load sensing devices in cranes or other lifting equipment

The second type of load measuring device is, in effect, several devices with common features. This group includes load sensors and devices on ship-to-shore (STS) cranes; rubber-tyred gantry (RTG) cranes; railmounted gantry (RMG) cranes; mobile harbour cranes; reach stackers; straddle carriers and so on. Most of the load sensing devices in this group are used for safety and/or stability systems, but the information is available to provide weight information with some limitations as outlined below.

The biggest question mark related to these systems is accuracy. Will the accuracy of these systems meet the requirements to come? The answer is most probably no, but until the requirements are defined, this option should be mentioned. Sensors in these devices are typically fitted to rope and chain anchors, in trollies or on booms. Distance from the container, and the dynamic effect this introduces adds to inaccuracy. These systems will typically have a measuring accuracy of plus or minus five percent. Source: Port Technology International