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In the continuing debate on container weights, the ITF has responded to news from Lloyds Register that new stacking methodology could see up to 10% more cargo on some larger ships, saying that until container weights are correctly measured it is impossible to ensure safety.

“Even if a ship can add 10% weight capacity onboard, it is meaningless if there is still a sizable percentage of the container weights misdeclared. Ships of 4,000 teu to the latest 16,000 teu all have the same problem of stability if containers are not situated at the correct place on the ship due to a misdeclaration,” explained Albet Le Monnier, former vice president of the ILWU in Canada and ITF port safety representative at the ILO and IMO.

Mr Le Monnier also hit back at Fiata’s position on container weighing – that it is “less inclined to accept such as issue to be on the legislative agenda” – saying it was “absurd”.

“To leave this on a voluntary basis is absurd. That’s the status quo as it is. Under Solas [Safety of Life at Sea], the shipper is only required to declare the weight of the container, and look at the problem of misdeclaration we’re experiencing. As rule, self regulation has a very poor record.”

At a recent seminar on the topic, covered by The Loadstar, it became clear that each party in the supply chain felt the responsibility for weighing containers should be shared – or passed on altogether. Hauliers needed the shipper to correctly identify the weight, while terminal operators pointed out that the sheer number of containers arriving at a terminal made it extremely difficult to weight them there.

But Mr Le Monnier told The Loadstar that the ITF believes container terminals are the best place.

“The ITF’s solution to the problem is for the container to be weighed independently from the agent that made the weight declaration, which could be the shipper, the consignor or the consolidator. Roadside weigh bridges can be reliable if they’re on the route, are open and the haulier is not hauling two 20ft containers. The most practical place is at the port terminal facility, because it has the equipment, weigh bridge and lifting equipment scales, and is at the centre of the multi-modal interface.”

He added that because there is already an existing commercial relationship between the terminal and the shipping line, it would be simple for the lines to pay the terminal. “In turn, the carrier will charge the shipper for the verification. Ultimately the cost will be in the consumer price, but hardly noticeable.”

Mr Le Monnier derided a recent idea, out of Germany, that the packer weighs the packages before loading. “ITF and many others felt that this didn’t really constitute a valid verification process, and was essentially status quo.”

He also rejected the idea of implementing any regulation too soon. “What is important is to get it right. Container weights have gone on misdeclared for years. To wait one or two more years won’t make a difference if the remedy adopted isn’t effective.”

A Correspondence Group has been formed to examine the issue and work out the container weights amendment to Solas rejection. It is due to report back to the IMO by June 2013, for deliberation in September.

Meanwhile, Lloyds Register has announced a “breakthrough” in container ship capacity. New research and methodology has shown that stacking weights differently would allow ships to carry more cargo. The group claims that in an 18,000 teu ship weights could rise by as much as 10%, news welcomed by the shipping lines.

“These results indicate clearly that we will be able to allow much higher cargo weights and enable more operational flexibility – and to do this in safety,” said Tom Boardley, marine director. “The potential in cargo increase is considerable.

“Clearly there has been scepticism over many ship efficiency claims and much of the problem comes down to lack of common approaches to measurement, so you end up comparing apples with oranges. But the work that we have been doing in examining the forces involved in container stacks is throwing up some really interesting and innovative results.”

However, he added: “In some locations, in some designs, you may have to reduce container weights. But having satisfied ourselves the risks are managed there are big benefits in overall carrying capacity.”

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