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As containerships grow ever larger – vessels of 24,000 teu are now on the drawing board – the risk posed by overloading grows greater too.

Regulators have decided that from July next year, all containers must be weighed before loading. Exporters, port executives and shipping line managers attending the Multimodal exhibition in Birmingham this week heard how the UK is leading the way in interpreting the new rules to keep sea freight flowing.

Captain Richard Brough (pictured above, right), technical and administration director of the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association, said that in a recent survey, 10% of containers were found to have wrongly declared weights.

Chris Welsh, director of global and European policy at the Freight Transport Association (above, centre), said: “The change in legislation is a huge challenge for all parties in the supply chain to understand and manage. We in the UK are ahead of the rest of the world.”

Mr Welsh, who is also also secretary general of the Global Shippers’ Forum, added: “Shipper organisations in other countries see a lot of sense in the UK approach.”

Capt. Brough warned: “Some countries are ignoring it altogether and hoping the issue will go away. It won’t.”

Outlining the problems caused by overweight boxes, the third member of the expert panel, Keith Bradley, hazardous cargoes advisor at the Marine and Coastguard Agency (pictured above, left), showed examples of container stacks collapsing and cited one case where an unnamed vessel recently lost more than 500 containers overboard.

These either stay afloat and endanger shipping, or can damage the environment when they wash up on shore. But the problem extends to overland transport too, and Capt. Brough showed graphic images of derailed freight trains and cars crushed by unstable containers falling off trucks.

Mr Welsh made it clear that the shipper is responsible for declaring a container’s weight, and said it “makes life difficult” when they are not truthful about the nature of the goods involved. There were also complications around groupage containers and consolidations, he added.

The FTA suggests ports may have to carry out verifications via weighing devices on reach stackers in cases where the shipper has failed to provide the data. Realistically this was too late in the process, however, and Mr Welsh warned of potential disruption.

“The technology exists but it’s difficult to change the stow plan. Containers would have to go back to the stack, risking delays,” he said.

Some member countries of the International Maritime Organization, which is implementing the new legislation, argued that every container must be weighed individually. The FTA and Mr Bradley, as the UK’s principal adviser to the IMO, successfully fought for a more user-friendly approach that allows certain shippers to verify box weight through a pre-calculated method.

The drinks industry, which ships regular large quantities of homogeneous product, will know for example how many packages are in the container and what each package weighs, so only has to factor into its calculation pallets, dunnage, securing material and the tare weight of the box.

Mr Welsh said shippers using recognised existing audit-based systems such as ISO 9001 or 28000, or those with Authorised Economic Operator status, could also use existing data to fulfill the requirements of calculated method.

The FTA is working to introduce an accreditation scheme for member companies by September, nine months ahead of the new legislation entering into force.

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