On July 1, 2016, a number of key ocean shipping mandates from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) will go into effect. Most countries and ocean carriers participate in the IMO, and therefore have agreed to follow the requirements, which fall under the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Act. These new mandates will bring about some challenges for shippers as they make the necessary operational changes to comply and properly report the weight of their ocean cargo.
Similar to airplane cargo, proper stowage and balance of freight on ocean container vessels is critical. Additionally, ocean carriers must consider harbor channel depths of the various ports of call on their schedule rotation to ensure no problems when arriving or departing an ocean container terminal. The IMO and participating members believe these mandates are essential to preventing incidents where hundreds of containers are lost overboard or a vessel is actually lost at sea due to structural integrity impacted by misdeclared cargo weights.
Just like when flying commercial airlines, reporting the true weight of seafaring cargo often comes with extra fees and restrictions, and some ocean shippers haven’t been fully complying. Confirming declared container weights or re-weighing containers at receiving terminals hasn’t been a priority with carriers in the past. The industry is more aware of these gaps now, and the IMO is taking steps to truly enforce the necessary weight restrictions with these new mandates.
Enforcement Brings Questions for Shippers
Although these restrictions are much needed, enforcing them brings into question how the new shipping weight mandates are going to be managed and enforced. The mandates are going to affect shippers and ocean carriers all over the world. The IMO is a non-governmental agency and the enforcement will primarily be carried out by ocean carriers. The US Coast Guard has openly commented that they have no intention to enforce this new requirement.
In the past six weeks, there has been increased activity from specific ocean carriers on how exactly the Verified Gross Mass (VGM) will be reported, the required data elements and the timing of the transmission of the information.
The carriers have made it clear – they have no interest in receiving a weight or scale ticket and having customer service representatives wade through many different information formats. They want the VGM data in a standard concise format. The preferred method of receiving the VGM is via VERMAS EDI messages. Many carriers are creating e-portals on their websites to promote free and early transmission of the VGM data using the booking and container number as the key reporting element.
For shippers, the challenge remains how they will obtain the correct VGM to submit to the carriers. Additionally, many shippers feel it is not their responsibility to report the tare weight of an ocean shipping container. And recently, some carriers have commented that they will permit the use of the tare weight listed on the container and others will publish the container tare weight on their e-commerce websites.
A major challenge for shippers and carriers alike will be timing. For example, if a shipper is loading containers in Charleston today, and those containers are in-gated at a local Charleston terminal, the terminals will not accept the shipment until the carrier has verified they’ve received the VGM. Transmitting the VGM by the required cut-off time could actually take more time than the container loading and delivery to the port terminal, and the flow of operations will have been completely disrupted.
The Question of Weight
Currently, there are only two accepted methods for verified gross mass for containers:
- Weighing the fully loaded container after it has been packed.
- Weighing the contents of the container, including cargo and any packing materials, and then adding that to the tare weight of the container either printed on the outside or available by lookup on the carrier’s website.
It will be important for shippers to choose which method of weight verification they will use, or if they are going to use a mix of the two methods. Additionally, shipments could run into problems if the port also chooses to weigh a container and their scale shows a different number than the original certification. It’s very important for shippers to plan ahead for these possible operational problems that could arise after July 1.
How Can Companies Prepare for These Mandates?
These mandates will impact any shipments that will be sailing out on or by July 1. So, even if a shipper is loading several weeks in advance on an intermodal transit departing in July, important operational changes may have to go into effect far before that deadline. It’s also critical that companies understand that there are additional associated costs that manufacturers will have to bear, as well as administrative burdens such as added documentation.
To make sure they have the necessary steps in place to meet these mandates, shippers should be talking to their ocean carriers, drayage providers and freight forwarders. It’s important to be actively participating in a dialogue with the entire ocean supply chain to discuss how this change is going to impact the flow of goods in and out of various facilities. These mandates will undoubtedly affect ocean shipping, but it’s going to take some hard work on the part of the entire supply chain to get there smoothly.
Mollie Bailey, LCB Director, International for Transplace, has more than 20 years of international transportation experience. She is responsible for operations and regulatory compliance for Transplace’s ocean and air forwarding business. Prior to joining Transplace, Ms. Bailey worked for CH Robinson International for 14 years in all facets of the global operations division. She served as General Manager of the DFW International office prior to joining Transplace International. Ms. Bailey is a Licensed Customs Broker.