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A new UN code of practice, requiring container weights to be verified before shipping, will come into force in July 2016.

If the issue sounds dull and procedural, it is nothing of the kind. Under-declaration of container weights, or unsafe loading, has been responsible for many serious truck accidents, and was implicated in the sinking of the MSC Napoli in 2007.

Speakers at this week’s Multimodal exhibition in Birmingham said better information about box contents could have averted a fire on board the MSC Flaminia in 2012, which claimed three lives, as well as last year’s fire on the Maersk Kampala.

The new regulation is relevant and critical to the entire supply chain, prompting the speakers to question why they were addressing so many empty seats.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox, risk management director for the TT Club, said two-thirds of cargo claims could be attributed to poor container packing or misdeclaration of weight.

“Any one container can have a huge impact on lots of others in an 18,000teu ship. The potential for a massive incident is out there,” he said.

Alongside the major disasters that create global headlines, Mr Storrs-Fox pointed to many “low-level disruptions”, such as truck accidents caused by unstable loads, or train derailments resulting from overweight cargo falling through the bottom of containers.

Captain Richard Brough, technical and admin director for the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association (ICHCA), estimates that up to 20% of containers are misdeclared.

One 8,000teu vessel leaving Rotterdam was discovered to be 6,000 tonnes over its declared weight, putting enormous strain on its lashing system, he said.

These discrepancies might explain why 600 boxes are washed overboard every year, according to official statistics, though ICHCA puts the real figure closer to 10,000.

Bill Brassington, of ETS Consulting, who analysed the weight and stability of 125,000 containers in preparation for the drawing up of the UN code, said it appeared that 5% were dangerously eccentric, and weights were up to 80 tonnes.

He added that the industry’s ability to pack safely was diminishing, as people try to get more into a smaller space.

The lack of reliable information provided to crane operators and vessel loaders was “a major problem”, considering that container shipping had existed for almost 60 years, Capt Brough said.

Under the new regulation, boxes will have to be weighed and verified before loading. But at what point in the transport chain? Capt Brough wondered – at the container crane it was too late. The shipper may have to come to the port to resolve the problem if a box was too heavy, and it could mean the law had already been broken on the road or rail journey.

Sharon James, secretary of the dockers’ section of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), said unstable containers moving by road were a public safety issue, not just a threat to drivers. “Who takes it back if a port says it’s illegal?” she asked.

Andrew McNab, marketing director of the biggest privately owned UK road container transport operator, Maritime Transport, showed shocking examples of trucks tipping over on twisty roads or roundabouts – in one case within minutes of leaving the dock gate – because heavier cargo had been placed on top of lighter, or the load was unevenly distributed.

“The onus is still on the driver when it ought to be on the packer,” Mr McNab said.

“We need everyone in the supply chain to be aware of and fully accept the guidelines. We need more and better training for everyone involved, including shippers, packers and warehousemen.”

Chris Welsh, director of global and European policy at the Freight Transport Association (FTA), which co-ordinated Wednesday’s Multimodal seminars, said the UK government favoured pre-verification, using the calculated weight method rather than physical container weighing.

“Some believe that’s a cop-out, but there will be sampling, especially of shippers who are not known or trusted,” he said.

Mr Storrs-Fox said technology may come to the industry’s rescue.

Weighing via twist-lock sensors would allow those moving containers “to gain more knowledge not just of weight, but what’s going on inside the box,” he said.

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  • Erik van Veen

    May 05, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    Mr. Storms-Fox is absolutely right considering technique to be the key to reduce risk of overweight and unbalanced containers. If we start measuring the imbalance and overweight with accurate twistlock method, at least we have one fixed place in the supply chain to make the situation more transparent and address those responsible!
    Fines can be laid upon those responsible and/or cargo can be banned from the ship. Terminals can re-pack containers at cargo owner’s costs.
    We won’t be able to solve all cargo transports but at least the large worldwide flow.
    Besides, the data from the measurement can be used by terminals to calculate more accurate the wear on, and life expectancy, of their equipment!

    • John Hunter

      May 08, 2014 at 11:40 pm

      I don’t think anyone would disagree with the need for weighing but as always, it comes back to who will do it? At the end of the day, I believe that the only way things will improve (admittedy, it will be slow) is for the container to be weighed at some point in the logistics chain (it doesn’t matter where) and then use Chain of Responsibility to trace the journey of the cargo back to its source and highlight all the points along the way where carriers/handlers failed in their Duty of Care. It could have real consequences – for example, shipping lines could start using only compliant terminals, and so on. A comment made above is very pertinent – if the container is found to be over-weight on arrival at the terminal from road/rail, what do you then do with it? You can’t send it back. A key factor in this sort of legislation is that once you know the regulations have been breached, you now bear partial responsibility for the consequences of any incident, if you did nothing at the time. Perhaps a system of massive storage costs until someone comes to the terminal and reduces the container’s weight (coupled with a high service charge for unpacking the container) might work? After all, money talks. Look at driving on the public highway – despite all the rules, training and advertising campaigns, the only things that really works are financial penalties or bans.

  • Michael Feliciano

    May 13, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    This is indeed a very important topic that has great impact to a supply chain.

    I don’t agree that the container can be re-weighed at any point of transport. I think it needs to be done prior to the container arriving at the port of loading and the shipper/factory needs to be held responsible if the container is not compliant with the new weight restrictions.

    • Jeff Beck

      May 19, 2014 at 3:24 pm

      Also agree that accurate weight must be evaluated prior to arrival at the cargo terminal.

      The twistlock method is also not accurate as the sensors on the headblock give a hoist value but can vary dramatically based on the movement of the load. To get an accurate reading, the operator would have to hold the container steady with no movement creating a delay the terminals are not willing to accommodate.

      • Ian Hosking

        June 02, 2014 at 9:28 pm

        Would it not be feasible to have load sensors in the twistlocks on the truck/trailer? This would enable the transporter to pick-up immediately if there was an issue before the container even left the shipper’s warehouse. It would also need to provide a record of the weight as proof the container is within limits, so that when it arrives at the terminal it can be accepted without delay. Perhaps a printed docket (say the size of a credi card/eftpos terminal receipt) from a printer within the truck cabin, that shows the load at each sensor and the total combined weight?

        Yes, there’ll be a cost for retro-fitting the technology to existing vehicles, plus an added cost to the manufacture of new vehicles. But that would be a fraction of the cost of the ongoing damages if the situation is allowed to continue as it is now.

  • John Hunter

    June 03, 2014 at 11:18 am

    I agree that ideally, the container should be weighed the moment it’s packed. It’s not just ships that are over-loaded, it’s also trucks and rail wagons so the container should be loaded before it even gets on to the public highway.

    However, my point is that weighing the container at any point in the logistics chain is better than never weighing it all, so if the cargo terminal has the means to weigh it, it should do do so and not wait for all of the different parties in the chain to reach agreement.

  • Daniel Paradas

    December 22, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Some people refer to installing load sensor on trucks or trailers. Again transport companies are to bear extra costs derived from implementing new devices to avoid risks we do not have to face.

    Shipper is responsible for fulfilling all weight limits when the truck leaves their premises, along with the transport company.

    So, let’s ask them to have verified weighing bridges at every factory, so they verify weight before and after loading the container.

  • Atta ullah khilji

    October 06, 2015 at 11:51 am

    Dear ALL,,
    Need information and guidance..
    Our container loaded with apple from Port got accident,We had lost our entire products…
    but we did not took Insurance …

    Now Logistic firms is claiming for his loss of container damage .
    As we told about our Loss as well ?

    now what to do ?As we have already lost our Products inside the container.

  • Rick Crosby

    January 05, 2016 at 12:16 am

    This is simple, once the container is loaded weighed at a certified scale. Look at the net weight on the back of the container and go from there. Send a copy of the scale ticket with the BOL Here in the U.S. the maximum gross weight of a truck is 80000# and that should be followed. The exports from the U. S. that I have loaded were always legal. Though as a dispatcher I had numerous forwarders ask if we would haul a illegal weight. We didn’t but someone did. Import loads came into the U.S. overweight all of the time and the weights on the J1 was always wrong. The penalty should go to whoever allowed the container to be loaded wrong. If the shipper can’t get it loaded correctly the first time, then the driver needs to be compensated. Again this is an easy fix weigh the containers when loaded. Pay the driver for the extra stop.