The consequences of misdeclaring the gross mass of a packed container can be far-reaching. Should a variation between the declared gross mass & the actual gross mass of a packed container go unnoticed, it could have an dangerous impact on the safety of the ship, seafarers & shore-side workers, by leading to incorrect vessel stowage order & potentially collapsed container stacks or loss of containers overboard.
In 2011, work started at IMO on the progress of measures to avert loss of containers. With regard to marine casualties & incidents in which misdeclared container mass had been a main factor, one strand of the work was the possible formation of a requirement that packed containers be weighed to get their actual gross mass prior to vessel loading. The work involved in the acceptance of the recommendations concerning the verified gross mass of a container carrying cargo (MSC.1/Circ.1475) & the acceptance of amendment to SOLAS regulation VI/2 to require the obligatory verification of the gross mass of packed containers (resolution MSC.380(94)).
SOLAS amendments and associated guidelines
In 94th session (17th-21st Nov. 2014), of the MSC accepted modifications to SOLAS regulation VI/2 (see resolution MSC.380(94)), to require the obligatory verification of the gross mass of packed containers.
In addition to the modifications to SOLAS regulation VI/2 & with a view to create a common approach for the accomplishment & enforcement of the SOLAS requirements concerning the verification of the gross mass of packed containers, the Maritime Safety Committee accepted the recommendations regarding the verified gross mass of a container carrying cargo (MSC.1/Circ.1475).
The aforementioned SOLAS amendments propose 2 main new requirements:
- the shipper is responsible for providing the verified weight by stating it in the shipping document & submitting it to the master or his representative & to the terminal official sufficiently in advance to be used in the arrangement of the ship stowage plan; &
- the verified gross mass is a set up for loading a packed container onto a ship.
The shipper is decided as a legal entity or person named on the bill of lading or equivalent multimodal transport document as shipper and/or who a contract of carriage has been assumed with a shipping company (see paragraph 2.1.12 of the recommendations concerning the verified gross mass of a container carrying cargo (MSC.1/Circ.1475)).
Availability to both the terminal official & to the master of the verified gross mass of a packed container sufficiently in advance to be used in the ship stowage plan is a requirement for the container to be loaded onto the ship to which the SOLAS regulations applies. However, it does not constitute an entitlement for loading. Nothing in the SOLAS regulations restrict the principle that the master reserve final choice in deciding whether to accept a packed container for loading onto his ship.
The verification of the gross mass can be performed by either of 2 methods:
- weighing the packed container; or
- weighing of all packages & cargo items, together with the mass of pallets, dunnage & other securing material to be packed in the container & adding the tare mass of the container to the sum of the single masses, using a approved method approved by the qualified authority of the State in which packing of the container was completed.
The amendments to SOLAS regulation VI/2 were adopted on 1st Jan. 2016 & will enforced on 1st July 2016.
Contingencies for containers accepted without a verified gross mass
Despite the shipper is responsible for obtaining & documenting the verified gross mass of a packed container, section 13 of the Guidelines concerning the verified gross mass of a container carrying cargo (MSC.1/Circ.1475) consists contingencies for containers accepted without a verified gross mass.
To allow the movement of such containers, the master & the terminal official may obtain the verified gross mass of the packed container on as a representative of the shipper. This can be done by weighing the packed container in the terminal or elsewhere, but whether & how to do this should be decided between the commercial parties, including the allocation of the costs involved.