On 1 July 2016 the International Maritime Organisation’s amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea (“SOLAS”) Convention Chapter VI enter into force. From this date, all packed containers must be accompanied by Verified Gross Weight documentation prepared by shippers (normally in the form of a certificate). There will be regulatory consequences for the shipper if the incorrect weight is ascribed to the container, as well as for the vessel if it accepts a mis-declared container.
At present, shippers themselves weigh and declare the weight of their containers and contents. It is thought that this results in the weight of around 20% of all containers being mis-declared, either maliciously or accidentally. Such misdeclaration is thought to have contributed to accidents, such as the sinking of the MSC Napoli. The IMO has decided that this system needs to change, and 1 July 2016 marks a significant shift in roles and responsibilities for anyone involved in the container trade.
From 1 July 2016, the following changes will come into force:
- The “Verified Gross Weight” of a container must be evidenced in the form of documentation (paper or electronic) signed by the shipper, stating the weight of the container after it has been packed and measured on a weighbridge (“method 1”) or the weight of the individual components and the weight of the container (“method 2”). Weighing must be carried out at an approved weighing station which complies with national rules. Estimated weights are not permitted for the purposes of the certification.
- The shipper (being the party listed as shipper in the bill of lading or sea waybill ) will be ultimately responsible for the weighing and verification of the container, and must communicate the weight to the Master a reasonable time in advance of it being loaded.
- The carrier is responsible for relaying the verified gross weight information to the terminal.
- If the certification evidencing the weight of the container is not received in advance, then the vessel must not sail with that container onboard, unless the master or the terminal can establish the verified weight of the container through other means. Enforcement of the regulations will vary from country to country and as best practice it should be assumed that the certification will be inspected at both the load and discharge port. In England compliance will be monitored both by the receiving terminal and the national regulator (the Maritime and Coastguard Agency), with penalties ranging from criminal liability to a ban on using method 2 (the weight of the individual components and the weight of the container) to calculate the Verified Gross Weight of the container.
Impact of the New Regime
The impact of the new regime is widespread. Below are a few key points of which carriers and shippers must now be aware, and have policies and procedures in place to implement before the new regime takes effect.
- Should make it clear to shippers that a container cannot be loaded until verified gross weight certificate documentation has been received
- Are responsible for transmitting this information to the port/terminal
- Should consider incorporating clauses into contracts/charterparties preventing claims from shippers if documents have not been received/transmitted in time for loading and departure, and entitling them to claim/be indemnified for any claims if they suffer loss or delay as a result of shippers’ conduct
- Are responsible for obtaining and providing carriers with compliant verified gross weight certificate documentation in advance
- Risk missing slots if this information is not provided in advance
- Need to consider how the costs of storage and spoilt cargo will be dealt with if the documentation is missing/inadequate or not accepted by the carrier or terminal
Questions Which Will Arise
Given the significant changes which will come into force on 1 July 2016, various questions will inevitably arise about the application of the new regime. Many of these will be dealt with “on the ground”, but we set out below some considerations which all parties should review and, as necessary, implement policies and procedures to deal with so as to minimise the interruption to service:
- What happens if a container arrives in a port without the necessary documentation, or with documentation which is incorrect? Does the receiving port bear any responsibility, or is the shipper wholly responsible?
- To what extent is the master required to investigate / refuse to load a container which has the necessary documentation but which he suspects to be incorrect?
- What is a “reasonable time in advance” for the documentation to be provided to the carrier by the shipper?
- What if the documentation is signed by someone “on behalf” of the shipper? Does the carrier need to check he has the necessary authority to do so? What if the carrier suspects he may not?