The European Shippers Council has proposed that problems related to misdeclared container weights can be dealt with through better exchange of information between shippers and container liner companies
But Chris Koch, chief executive officer of the World Shipping Council, said the ESC’s proposal “would not solve the problem and it is an obfuscation of the issue.”
The International Maritime Organization’s Subcommittee on Dangerous Goods, Solid cargoes and Containers (DSC) last September considered proposed draft amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) to require mandatory verification of gross weight of containers and agreed further work was needed to develop the draft amendments, along with related draft guidelines regarding verified container weights. It meets again this September, and a correspondence group continues to work on the issue.
“What is needed is an improvement in the exchange of information between shippers and container liner shipping companies,” ESC said in a press release posted on its Website earlier this month.
“European shippers insist that a mandatory deadline for the delivery of the final shipping instructions by the shipper to the carrier’s office will largely solve the issue of ‘misdeclared container weight.’ The present lack of a clear deadline for shippers to share their shipping instructions leads to unexpected container roll-overs and unreliable stowing and loading plans for container ships,” it continued
ESC said a lack of such information can cause difficulties for a ship’s master when determining whether or not the safety limits of the ship have been exceeded.
“In the container liner shipping business when a carrier takes on board a containerized cargo for shipping, there is some accepted flexibility concerning the latest information which has not yet fully been processed in the carrier’s database," ESC explained. "Instead of using real time data, a carrier will often use the shipper’s booking data to determine its stowplans. This stowplan is in turn the basis of the terminal’s loading plan.”
ESC said changes a shipper makes to the approximate weight of its containers as declared in the booking data “is regularly not processed in a timely manner. Such delay leads to a gap between the registered loaded container weight on board a ship and the real loaded container weight. Due to this discrepancy, shipmasters sometimes, for the sake of a safe journey, improvise and decide to leave some ready-to-be-shipped containers on the quayside with the resulting costs to be paid by the cargo owner, the shipper."
It added “carriers should be given the opportunity to create a stow plan on the basis of the latest cargo information available, namely the shipping instructions. A legally defined delivery deadline for the shipper’s shipping instructions would be the best way of solving the problem of this information gap.”
But Koch said the SOLAS convention already has established a time deadline. The convention states that "the shipper shall provide the master or his representative with appropriate information on the cargo (including the gross mass of the cargo or of the cargo units) sufficiently in advance of loading to enable the precautions which may be necessary for proper stowage and safe carriage of the cargo to be put into effect."
And he noted elsewhere, SOLAS provides that the shipper's declaration must be accurate, stating: "Prior to loading cargo units on board ships, the shipper shall ensure that the gross mass of such units is in accordance with the gross mass declared on the shipping documents.
“The problem of misdeclared container weights exists despite the existence of these existing SOLAS obligations on shippers,” Koch said.
“The problem is not really about when the shipper sends its container weight declaration to the carrier; the problem is that too often the shipper's container weight declaration is not the correct weight,” he added. “What is needed is that there be an accurate verification of these declared weights.”
Last fall, WSC along with the governments of the United States, Denmark, the Netherlands, the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH), International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), and BIMCO submitted a proposal to the IMO subcommittee to amend SOLAS
to state that "A freight container containing cargo shall not be loaded aboard a ship unless the master or his representative and the terminal representative have the verified gross weight of the container obtained by a weighing of the container. Such verified weights shall be available sufficiently in advance of vessel loading to be used in the vessel stowage plan."
Koch said “many shippers recognize the existence of the problem and are supporting the efforts of the IMO to solve it. The ESC would enhance its credibility if it did the same instead of engaging in further obfuscation.”
Peter Gatti, executive vice president of the National Industrial Transportation League, said “all containers in the U.S. are weighed and the League supports the current requirements.
“As to international movements the League is working with the Global Shippers' Forum (GSF) which in turn has communicated with international authorities and WSC on how best to convey weight information which is needed by the carriers in developing safe stowage plans for loading containers,” he said.
Gatti said the topic will be addressed at the GSF's annual meeting in London in April.
A summary by GSF of last fall's IMO meeting said "there was general agreement that an element of flexibility was
needed to provide for 'calculated' weights by shippers
(forwarders/consolidators/packers)," as an alternative to weighing containers. - Chris Dupin