There are just over 100 days before the IMO’s SOLAS amendment requiring that the verified gross mass (VGM) of a container must be signed-off before it is loaded on board a vessel, but applications by UK companies to become accredited “weighers” are apparently not being acknowledged.

Robert Keen, director general of the British International Freight Association (BIFA), has written to the chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), Sir Alan Massey, expressing the trade association’s concern.

Under the SOLAS Chapter V1 regulations two methods of determining the VGM are allowed: method 1, weigh the loaded container; or method 2, weigh the cargo and other contents and add the tare weight of the container

However, the regulations stipulate that for the latter method, approval must be gained from the relevant national or other competent authority in the country where the container is packed.

The letter said that a number of BIFA members have reported that applications made before the end of last year to become an approved method 2 weigher have not even been acknowledged by the MCA.

“And despite several telephone calls, MCA staff are not able to indicate when approval will be granted, or if the MCA has the capability of physically processing the applications,” Mr Keen wrote.

According to the letter, the MCA had, on several occasions, advised that updated guidance and information would be issued shortly, including an announcement in the press, but “to date this guidance has not materialised”.

Mr Keen added: “Our members are becoming increasingly concerned at both the lack of information and progress in processing their applications.”

He wrote that BIFA had also been contacted by the Freight Transport Association (FTA) which shares these concerns.

“The lack of any announcements is of particular concern so close to the 1 July deadline for implementing this regulation,” Mr Keen continued.

“BIFA members look to the regulator to provide clear guidance on this matter and a certainty that they will be able to apply and be approved under method 2.”

The letter complained that another significant problem was that the lack of clarity “fuels the rumour mill that the UK will not implement the IMO regulation”.

“It is essential that the MCA starts processing applications to become an ‘approved weigher’ as soon as possible to provide the confidence that industry needs,” Mr Keen said.

The confusion would appear to be further compounded by the uncertainty surrounding Keith Bradley, the MCA’s hazardous cargo advisor, who has been in charge of the project for the MCA and is rumoured to be departing the organisation at the end of April.

“This impacts on both the specific issue relating to container weight verification and the wider subject of dangerous goods. Any information regarding Keith’s replacement would be much appreciated,” Mr Keen wrote,

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  • Y K Chan (Mr)

    March 16, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    A Solution for VGM

    As a veteran in containerization and shipping, I propose the following to resolve the issue of SOLAR’s ‘verified gross mass’ (VGM):

    1. On booking, a container shipper shall electronically sign a VGM form stating that the Shipper hereby authorizes the Carrier and/or its agent to recheck cargo weight and declare VGM on his behalf – in addition to furnishing his interim cargo weight. Shipper also agrees to pay the Carrier a penalty (to be proposed by Carrier) should his declared interim cargo weight is found to deviate for more than 5% from the verified cargo weight – calculated by the VGM less the container tare weight.

    2. Most ship-to-shore container gantry cranes have weight meters. Upon lifting by the gantry crane , the actual gross weight, container tare weight and verified cargo weight shall be eletronically added onto the VGM form.

    3. For those gantry cranes without weight meter, a weight bridge will probably be needed.

    4. From the viewpoint of a ship’s structural strength, the VGM of a container bay (a summation of many container VGMs) is much more important than that of VGM of one individual container.

    Regards – Y K Chan. CoboShip/Hong Kong

    • Jerry vandenbent

      March 17, 2016 at 4:50 pm

      Any method is better than nothing, but if I may throw in my 2 cents, I would like to mention that containers should be weighed and certified before going into the last stage of loading on board the vessel by the container crane, why:
      containers are being planned in the stow plan based amongst others on weight, heavy ones go down into the hold and lighter ones go on deck, therefore if it is being asserted by the container crane during loading on the vessel, that the weight of the container is way off the declared weight, it is too late!!! we now have a problem:
      1) if we unload the container off the vessel due to its incorrect weight, we are creating big delays, the container has to be send back to the storage area, the stow plan has to be changed, which creates more and more delays or
      2) If we leave the container where it is being loaded on the vessel we could have created a dangerous situation on the vessel

      Of course 1 container would not create that much of a difference, but unfortunately my experience tells me that most containers are being declared with incorrect weights

      As a final remark and solution, most ports have a weighbridge, when the container enters the port facility, where the correct weight is being documented and correct measures can be taken, thus avoiding all the problems as being described as per the above

      If the port facility does not have a weighbridge, than a certified organization should issue an official weight certificate by a surveyor at the loading facility of the Shipper

      With regards to a penalty for the Shipper , I believe that is all up to the Lines,

      In case of transhipment containers, the weight can be checked by the container crane during discharge and can be corrected accordingly