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Overweight containers could be a problem for years, according to a senior UK-based carrier executive, despite some shipper claims to the contrary.

Despite September’s vote in the International Maritime Organization [IMO] to amend its Safety of Life at Sea Convention [Solas] – which will require the production of a verified weight certificate before a container can be loaded on board a ship – some shipper representatives remain rooted in their opposition to the new regulation.

Speaking at last week’s Intermodal Europe event in Hamburg, Marco Wiesehahn, policy advisor for the European Shippers’ Council, was adamant: the mandatory weighing of containers prior to shipment was not only unnecessary, but could cost shippers worldwide an estimated $5 billion a year in extra costs.

The ESC claims there is no factual evidence that a serious problem of shippers misdeclaring container weights exists; furthermore, that the new regulation only covers one aspect of the problems in working with containers and would do little to improve safety standards.

It is a view supported by the Asian Shippers’ Council. But the Global Shippers’ Forum, World Shipping Council, BIFA and the International Transport Workers Federation are among organisations that have voiced general support for the Solas amendments.

And, according to one UK-based shipping executive who contacted The Loadstar, the problem is getting worse, while truck efficiency is improving, which disguises the extent of problem, he said. The giveaway signs of a vehicle down on its axels or having problems pulling the load are being compensated by the improved performance and technology of modern high-powered trucks.

The executive claimed the problem of overweight containers was endemic in the container industry, and while he identified boxes destined for West Africa as being especially troublesome at the moment, he also viewed the problem as being “widespread” across other trades.

He has compiled a thick file of case histories – one recent example was of a container declared as household effects, booked for Tema, with a gross weight of 12 tonnes. It actually contained 30 tonnes of soft drinks.

Additionally, he said that if truck drivers showed concern at loading bays, they were often “physically threatened and told to stay in their cabs”.

Nonetheless, the legislation is still a long way from being adopted. The next IMO Maritime Safety Committee meeting in May 2014 is the earliest that the agreed amendment can be approved, and then only formerly adopted 12 months after that, in May 2015.

Moreover, in practice this process could be extended by a two-year “waiting period”, to ensure the industry has sufficient time to adjust to the new rules.

It follows that, for another four years, the executive argued, containers in the global supply chain that have misdeclared weights could be intermodal accidents waiting to happen: he described them as ticking time bombs on roads, railways, inland waterways, in ports and onboard ships.

The IMO ruling, when it comes, will be a marker in the sand, but in the interim, the education of all stakeholders needed to be radically improved, said Mr Wiesehan, who acknowledged shippers’ legal responsibilities to declare accurate weights.

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  • Jan Scheck

    October 18, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Do we really need to wait for a calamity, potentially including loss of life, to happen before decisive action is taken on this topic ?
    Not actioning this, sooner rather than later, is tantamount to willingly risking the lives of all the people that are involved with transportation globally.

  • Sanjay Relan

    October 20, 2013 at 11:24 am

    I agree with Jan. It is surprising to hear people putting a spin on why its a good thing to continue lying about shipment weights !

  • Narasimhan Sundapalayam

    October 21, 2013 at 11:56 am

    First of all,what is the legal definition of the term ‘SHIPPER’? It means ” a person who ships the goods”, if you go by the dictionary.

    If this is agreed, who is the shipper when the FCL or FCL/LCL or LCL/FCL is actually shipped (delivered to the oceangoing-carrier)by a Consol Agent or a Freight Forwarder or an OTI? It has to be noted that in all such cases, the cargo – esp.the LCL – is taken by any of the aforesaid intermediaries from the actual “cargo-owner.”

    In all cases, the final container contains cargoes of more than one cargo-owner and gets covered by a HBL. This Container is delivered by the Consol Agent or the FF to the performing carrier and gets the B/L showing his name as the shipper”.

    Even in the case of an FCL, when the foreign buyer nominates an agent in the Sellers’ country, Nominated Agent is the “shipper” from the point of view of the performing carrier. The ocean B/L is issued in the name of the Nominated Agent who in turns issues his own B/L.

    But, our Liner friends and their cohorts, straightaway point their fingers at this cargo-owner as the “shipper” in case of any mishap for which the misdeclaration of weight of the final container were a cause.

    Commonsense would dictate that the “shipper” should be the person who delivers the cargo to the performing carrier. In the aforesaid cases, it naturally follows that it is NOT the “cargo-owner/s” BUT any ONE of the Aforesaid INTERMEDIARIES is in fact the “SHIPPER” in ocean carriage.

    If I am not mistaken, the Amendment proposed is in respect of the “Responsibility of the Shippers” to declare accurate weight.

    My only appeal to the doyens of the industry, who wax eloquently on the subject, is to educate me as to whether the aspects I have put forward in the preceding paragraphs have relevance to and if yes have in fact been taken into full consideration to get reflected in the proposed Amendment to Applicable sections/clauses of the SOLAS Convention.

  • Charles Yeiser

    October 23, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    Jan and Sanjay have it right! It is incredible that this practice hasn’t been quashed years ago. Companies and governments spout and preach about safety and safeguarding vessels and their crews, yet here we are discussing whether or not to do anythiong about misdeclared shipping weights. Only someone totally unfamiliar with proper stowage and its important relationship to ship stability could hesitate an instant on this matter. Misdeclaring shipping weights and cargos should be a crime and prosecuted as such vigorously. improper stowage on any vessel is a serious problema but with container ships with containers stacked in mass high above the deck/wáter level it takes on epic proportions. I’ve been on a vessel years ago manned by experience master mariners and crews who rigorously secured the cargo and ensured correct stability. If that had not been the case we would have foundered in hurricane conditions where the critical roll was exceded several times and the ship was subjected to stresses from every angle for an extended period of time. Obviously, I would not be expressing my opinión to anyone at this time. Greed seems to overide good seamanship and correct procedures at all levels except onboard where the lives of men and women are at stake and profesional pride still balks at losing one’s ship or cargo.