confused © Richard Thomas |
© Richard Thomas

The verified gross mass (VGM) gremlins have been at it again: confusing and obfuscating shippers and their forwarders as they prepare for the SOLAS amendment to come into force on 1 July.

The latest example comes from no less than the International Maritime Organisation – the very body that wrote the SOLAS regulations, as well as the forthcoming amendment – which issued new VGM guidance this week on the issue of transhipment containers loaded before 1 July.

Here’s the problem: from 1 July, every container loaded on a vessel has to be accompanied by a VGM (strictly speaking, it has to be delivered to carrier before the vessel’s arrival at the loading port).

But what happens to containers loaded before the deadline, but unloaded at a transhipment port and then reloaded after 1 July for their onward journey to the end port?

The IMO’s answer was to call for some “pragmatism” Has it actually listened to the cadence of much of the debate over the past few months?

It suggested to national maritime agencies that “a more relaxed approach, initially, would be particularly beneficial for containers packed before July 1, but transhipped after, and thus reaching their destination port without a verified gross mass”.

One of The Loadstar’s regular contributors to our comments section, Andy Lane, immediately saw where this could lead: “This is a little fluffy (or to use another maybe more appropriate word – spurious) from IMO. And I am not so sure that it helps ease confusion, but just creates more unwanted grey areas.

“What IMO maybe should have said is that any container packed on or after July 1 is subject to the new SOLAS (VGM) rules, but that leniency for those packed before or already in transit will be granted.

“That would be a lot clearer.”

And boy, was he right! The following day, the Wall St Journal, which has spent the past year building a team of shipping and logistics reporters, and hitherto done a fine job of reporting our industry to the hoi polloi, ran the following headline: “Shipping regulator calls for delay in container-weight enforcement”. It explained that the IMO had suggested national governments should delay implementation of the new rules for a three-month period “to give operators more time to put together the systems needed to meet the mandate”.

Even allowing for the time difference between North America and The Loadstar’s base in London, it was just a few hours before dozens of links appeared across the internet claiming the IMO was calling for a full three-month delay – none of which gives those trying to comply any help whatsoever.

Click here to find an example, and think where it would get you if you were trying to deliver a container on 2 July – I use this example because it was sent to us by several shippers and more than a few forwarders who fully believed it.

Yes, there are problems with implementing the new regulations; and yes, there are also difficulties understanding how current supply chains are supposed to operate under the new regime; and no, none of those difficulties are in any way cleared up by the abundance of unresearched material on the web.  Pick your sources carefully, people.

The nature of this article has changed in a strangely parallel way with the debate on VGM. I originally wanted to show how the IMO could have made its position a lot clearer, but have instead finished by making a case for the industry using properly sourced journalism rather than lazily using freebie clickbait, cut-and-paste sites…

In the IMO’s case, it wanted to deal with the safety issues around misdeclared container weights, which seems a very long way from where a lot of the debate currently stands.

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