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New regulations that will make it mandatory for containers to be weighed – or have their stated weight otherwise verified – are set to be introduced to international shipping after the International Maritime Organization (IMO) member states today voted in the amendment to its Safety of Life at Sea (Solas) regulations.

Captain Richard Brough, technical director at the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association (ICHCA), which acted as the joint-chair of the correspondence group set up by the IMO to write the guidelines for the new regulations, confirmed to The Loadstar that the amendment was “passed without any objections”.

The central feature of the amendment states that all containers must either be weighed to confirm that the weight as declared by the shipper – already a Solas requirement – is the actual weight, or use a second method of “calculated” verification, whereby shippers can weigh all packages and cargo items including pallets, dunnage and the tare of the container.

“Over the last year a number of countries and interested parties have made the point to us that there are many parts of the world where there is not the equipment or the finance to acquire it to weigh every container, and so an alternative method was needed,” Capt Brough explained.

However, that was a point of contention with labour representatives in the form of the International Transport Workers Federation, which had argued that only by weighing each and every container would safety in the international container supply chain be brought up to the required standard. They described the introduction of a second method as a “compromise”.

ITF president and dockers’ section chair Paddy Crumlin said: “This was the ideal opportunity to finally bring in a system which would lessen the risk that unweighed and misdeclared containers pose to dockers, seafarers, truck drivers, the general public and the environment. Instead we have a compromise that in some countries will put in place a process that is likely to be bedevilled by the obvious questions: who will certify, when, and how?”

This point was echoed by the British International Freight Association, which said: “There is a feeling that the proposals, particularly relative to the concept of “verifying” weight, lacks definition. However, if the proposals are passed by the IMO, BIFA will engage with the MCA [the Maritime and Coastguard Agency] to formulate practical solutions to meet its member’s needs.”

However, Capt Brough argued that to insist upon weighing alone would be impractical. “We made the point that weighing each container is the ‘gold standard’, but the reality is that it cannot be achieved in every part of the world, and as long as the contents of the container and the container itself are accurately weighed by calibrated equipment, which is the responsibility of port state control in the particular country to ensure, it is a good compromise.

“ICHCA’s job now is to help with developing solutions for the industry,” he continued. “Although the onus is certainly on shippers, ultimately the one place where all containers pass through is the port of loading and I expect ports will be offering weighing services.”

The passage of the vote was welcomed by carrier representatives, as well as some shippers.

Chris Koch, chairman of the World Shipping Council, which represents the vast majority of container lines, said: “We are pleased that the Solas amendments and related implementation guidelines have been approved by the DSC [the IMO’s Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargo and Containers sub-committee]. We look forward to approval by the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in May 2014 and the final adoption in November 2014. The container shipping industry will continue to work with all supply chain stakeholders on the processes necessary to ensure smooth implementation, which could occur in July 2016.”

Global Shippers Forum secretary general Chris Welsh added: “This is a good day for maritime safety, and the GSF believes that the outcome is a sensible compromise, and we are pleased that the IMO listened carefully to shippers’ arguments regarding appropriate methods for verification.”

However, that view was not uniform amongst shipper groups. The European Shippers Council has argued that the regulation only covers one aspect of the dangers working with containers, and ignores others such as stacking and the packing of containers, and as a result will do little to enhance overall safety standards.

However, the IMO, in conjunction with the International Labour Organisation and the UN Economic Commission for Europe, is shortly due to release a new code of practice for the packing of cargo transport units, following three years of work.

ICHCA will hold a one day seminar explaining the new code next month. Click here for details.

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