What You Need to Know About the New SOLAS Regulation

With the introduction of the new Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulation, there has been much discussion about what the new ruling entails, and what it will mean for the industry. There has also been a lot of confusion, particularly regarding who is responsible for implementing the changes and enforcing the ruling. To clear things up, we put together some key facts.

What is the New Regulation?

The regulation states that after July 1, 2016, it will be a violation of SOLAS to load a packed container onto a vessel without a Verified Gross Mass (VGM). The regulation was introduced in response to the high number of maritime incidents, where containers of estimated weight were loaded onto a vessel without due planning, causing instability that led to loss of cargo and vessels, injuries, and even fatalities.

Who Will It Affect?

The regulation will be applied globally, affecting all ocean transportation—95% of all international trade (by volume per transaction). As such, the effects will be felt across the industry. Delays are inevitable as the parties adjust, and the response to containers without a VGM will depend on the terminal and carrier. Trucks may be turned away to prevent congestion within terminals, or terminals may assign storage space in preparation, however either option would still require time to reconfigure the stowage plans before a vessel could be loaded. In many cases, carriers and terminals are addressing this by installing weighing stations to provide this service, ensuring compliance, and profiting from the change.

Who is Responsible?

According to SOLAS, the onus of providing the VGM is on the shipper, defined by the SOLAS convention as ‘the legal entity or person named on the bill of lading or sea waybill or equivalent multimodal transport document as shipper, and/or who (or in whose name or on whose behalf) a contract of carriage has been concluded with a shipping company’. Shippers therefore are advised to strive for compliance as soon as possible, and check with carriers and terminals how best to meet the mandate according to their plans. For shippers using a forwarder to pack and weigh the container, forward to the port, and make bookings, the forwarder may provide the verified weight on their behalf—however the shipper will ultimately have responsibility. Carriers and terminals must both strictly refuse to load containers without a VGM, or their ships will not be compliant to flag state and insurance rules. Carriers and terminals are under no obligation to check shipments, however enforcement agencies may implement measures to ensure compliance is being achieved.

How to be Compliant

Any container being loaded onto a vessel must have a VGM, and it is important that the carrier receives this with time to safely plan stowage. Deadlines will differ dependent on the carrier, but it is clear that this will require more time, so prepare for tighter deadlines and allow more time for processing. The VGM can be signed by hand or electronically, and must contain the signature (of a person, not the company) or the last name of the responsible party in capital letters, as well as the verified weight. The VGM can be ascertained by either weighing the container and its contents as a whole (Method 1), or weighing all the cargo (including packaging and dunnage) before packing, and adding this to the tare weight of the container (Method 2). Packed containers entering through a U.S terminal gate via truck (i.e. off-dock rail, local export cargo) can be weighed by the terminal. The carriers can use this weight as the VGM submission by the shipper. Packed containers that move via rail intermodal received at a terminal (i.e. on-dock rail) will already have Gross Cargo Weights, as required under the Intermodal Safe Container Transportation Act (ISCTA). These are passed from the shippers’ loading facility to the trucker, and then to the carrier (for inland rail units only) for safe rail transport and terminal handling. The carrier, on behalf of the shipper, will add container tare weight to the Gross Cargo Weight, and submit the total as VGM to loading ports. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has granted a grace period of three months to allow for:

  • Permitting packed containers that were loaded onto a vessel before July 1, 2016, and are transshipped on or after July 1, 2016 to be shipped to their final port of discharge without the VGM specified in SOLAS Regulations VI/2.4 to VI/2.6; and
  • Providing flexibility to all the stakeholders in containerized transport to refine, if necessary, procedures for documenting, communicating and sharing VGM Information