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After years of debate, the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) safety committee has finally approved amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea (Solas) convention that will introduce a mandatory requirement  for the certificated verification of container weights prior to loading onboard an export vessel.

The amendment to Solas still has to be adopted by the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) when it sits in November – although this is now seen as rubberstamping – before the new rules enter into force in July 2016.

It has been estimated that up to 20% of the 130 million ocean freight containers traded globally each year have misdeclared weight – indeed, several maritime casualty reports, including the MSC Napoli in 2007, highlighted the impact of overweight containers as a contributory factor in the structural failure of ships.

And under-declared weight can be just as dangerous to the stow of a ship as a contributing factor in the collapse of a container stack.

Support for mandatory container weighing came from the majority of container shipping lines, the International Chamber of Shipping, BIMCO, the International Transport Workers Federation and the World Shipping Council (WSC) among others, but terminal operators had mixed views and shippers were generally against the regulation.

Indeed, the Asian Shippers’ Council and the European Shippers’ Council, which together claim to represent 75% of global trade, were both vocal in their objection to the mandatory weighing of containers, saying it would “merely add to the costs, resulting in undue delays in the supply chain without significantly decreasing the risk of occurrence of such accidents”.

However, the WSC, which says its members operate around 90% of global liner capacity, praised the IMO for agreeing the Solas amendments and for its leadership in “trying to ensure the safe transportation of cargo by the international shipping industry”.

The WSC also congratulated the IMO’s safety committee on issuing implementation guidelines to assist supply chain participants.

At a conference session at the recent Multimodal exhibition in Birmingham, Capt Richard Brough, technical and admin director for the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association (ICHCA) told delegates that, considering container shipping had existed for almost 60 years, the “lack of reliable information” on container weights remained a “major problem”.

However, Capt Brough wondered at which point in the transport chain the mandatory weighing would take place, given that it was “too late at the container crane” as the law would have already been broken on the road or rail journey to the port.

Indeed, The Loadstar’s reporting of the conference seminar prompted much reader response, with the debate shifting to where in the supply chain the container will be weighed.

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