Major new international rules will come into force on 1st July which require a container’s weight to be verified by prescribed methods before it can be loaded onto a ship. The laws will stipulate the weighing of packed containers by calibrated and certified equipment. This amendment to the Safety of life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) was approved by the international Maritime organisation’s (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee, in 2014. Failure to comply will be a criminal offence, punishable by a heavy fine or a prison term.
SOLAS already demands that shippers declare container weight on the Bill of lading and associated paperwork. However, it is estimated that more than a third of the 130 million containers transported around the word each year are overweight, which has clear safety consequences – hence the need for stricter verification. For example, when the MSC Napoli sank off the coast of Cornwall, in 2007, it was discovered that 20% of the containers on board were at least 3 tonnes over their declared weight, and some were as much as 20 tonnes heavier.
The obligation to declare the weight of the loaded container falls on the shipper, as stated on the Bill of lading or transport document. The named shipper will often be the company that is exporting the goods and responsibility falls upon that company, irrespective of whether they are using a third party to actually move the goods. Any exporter using containerised freight to ship goods must either ensure that they have carried out the weight verification themselves or that their freight forwarder can offer the service in a SOLAS-compliant manner. If a valid weight certificate is not supplied, the container will not be loaded onto the intended ship, with an obvious commercial cost including repacking, detention etc, as well as causing delays which may heap additional financial penalties on the shipper. Such penalties are in addition to criminal punishment. In the UK, the amendment will become law without the need for an act of Parliament and will be enforced by the Maritime and Coastguard agency (MCA).
Ultimately, businesses which ship goods abroad using containerised transport will be required to make the necessary changes to their systems in the next four months to be compliant with the amended regulations.
No-one wants extra paperwork but this is a justified law, whose introduction has been made necessary by shoddy record keeping and loading in the past.