U.S. importers are urging container lines to disclose the cut-off times for the sending of verified gross mass declarations, warning of containerized supply chain disruption if communication doesn’t improve regarding the SOLAS container weight rule.
Members of the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers need to build extra time into their supply chains so that they can transmit their VGMs so stowage plans can be made and the containers loaded onto ships, the heads of each shipper group told JOC.com Monday.
“We’re two months away,” said Jon Gold, vice president of supply chain at NRF, referring to how the International Maritime Organization rule will take effect July 1. “There has to be better communication. We can’t afford to have July 1 come and things shutting down.”
IMO members passed the SOLAS amendment in 2014 in an effort to crack down on the misdeclaration of container weights, which have been linked to major accidents. Under the rule, container lines are obliged to reject any boxes without a VGM declaration starting July 1. Shippers can obtain a VGM in one of two ways, according to the IMO, either by weighing the container and its contents as one unit, or by weighing every item and packaging in the container and adding that figure to the tare, or empty weight, of the box. The U.S. Coast Guard has said there are multiple methods for U.S. industry to meet the rule, but other countries have not displayed such an interpretation of the IMO rule.
The details of the cut-off time are between the shipper and its carriers, according to the Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association, which represents 18 container lines. According to OCEMA’s best practices, containers with tardy VGM declarations will be loaded on the next available sailing. It’s up to each member container line to determine whether the shipper will be charged extra for the storage needed before the next sailing.
Container lines appear to be readying the communication of cut-off times to shippers. Hapag-Lloyd, for example, this week told customers that it will show cut-off times on booking confirmations this month and they will be detailed on the web schedule in June, according to a May 10 letter to customers.
“There is a nervousness about the cut-off times, but no one is hitting the panic button yet,” said Robyn Boerstling, vice president of infrastructure, innovation and human resources policy at NAM.
It’s not just a lack of understanding of when cut-off times will be that’s rattling importers. Many retail shippers still aren’t clear on how to send the VGM, electronically or via paper forms, Gold said. The lack of harmonization among the 162 signatory countries on how the rule will be implemented and the lack of details from many of them also adds to the confusion, he said.
Not only are different countries taking different approaches, from acceptable variations in weights to the level of scrutiny declarations will receive, but too few countries have issued guidance, he said. Only 19 countries have so far issued final or draft guidelines, according to the World Shipping Council website tracking regulatory information