China is the world’s leading generator of export containers, but its national guidelines on industry compliance with the SOLAS container weight rule remain “a work in progress”, according to Hong Kong-listed carrier OOCL.
The container line published information for customers on its website covering the verified gross mass (VGM) rule that will be implemented on July 1, where the carrier noted that China’s guidelines had not yet been released.
“China is one example where national policies are still a work in progress to meet the SOLAS Convention’s new VGM requirements while addressing concerns, such as operational costs, from the shipping community,” OOCL wrote.
The carrier said implementation of the weight rule had been entrusted to the Maritime Safety Administration under the China Ministry of Transportation. So far, the Maritime Safety Administration that operates under the MOT has issued a notice of “5 things you have to know regarding new container weight requirements of SOLAS,” but it outlines broadly what is required without going into the specifics the industry is desperately searching for.
Only 10 countries to date have had their guidelines and regulations published to the website of the World Shipping Council, a group that represents roughly 90 percent of global container capacity and was a major player in the creation of the new rule. Those 10 are just a fraction of the 162 signatories to the SOLAS treaty.
OOCL said the “no VGM, no loading” principle would apply, and terminals observing the SOLAS Convention and/or local regulatory requirements would reject containers at the gate if no VGM was provided. In addition, the shipper would be responsible for the potential regulatory penalties and all costs associated to the exception handling of the containers without the VGM.
With just three months to go to July 1, there remains a lack of clarity in one key area — the shipper must ensure the VGM is provided sufficiently in advance for use by the ship master and the terminal representative in the ship stowage plan.
OOCL said the cut-off times would vary from country to country as national agencies reviewed how best to implement the rule and ports and terminals looked at the appropriate VGM time frame to allow for safe stowage planning and smooth yard operation.
Interestingly, while the VGM is required for all export containers, OOCL said the VGM would also need to be available at transshipment ports of all signatories to the SOLAS Convention. “Shippers are requested to communicate the VGM to OOCL before the first loading port to avoid any transshipment delays and costs,” the carrier noted.
After a slow start, many companies involved in the container supply chain are now publishing regularly updated guidelines, with mobile container weighing company Conweigh advising the industry that instead of troubling over the disruptions the rule may cause to operations, the benefits of complying should be appreciated.
“Many solutions are available to shippers, such as an on-demand mobile container weighing service that can come to the shipper’s packing site to weigh their containers and deliver a weight certificate in minutes on-site,” Conweigh said in a blog post.
“The amendments provide international consistency on the container weighing process, allowing manufacturers, shippers, and carriers more advantages with on-call data of each weighed container.”
The problem is that all weighing services need to certified by the jurisdiction in which the weighing will take place, but what will be required in the certification process, and how long it will take, still need to be outlined by the national authorities. No shipper can commit to a weighing service until he knows that the VGM obtained through the process is authorised.