A SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) regulation amendment would very soon (by 2016) require the production of a verified weight certificate with the consent of the shipper before containers can be loaded on-board a ship. This has become necessary due to the persistent challenge faced by the industry as a result of misdeclaration of cargo weight.
The issue of misdeclaring container weight has been a big challenge in the industry for some time now with many industry related accidents blamed on this particular challenge. Cranes and forklifts have been known to fall under weights, Lashings may break due to unplanned weight distribution on the stack of vessels, there is also the possibility of a ship becoming unstable and possibly break up if the cargo distribution is not as the declarations led the master to believe.
The break up and eventual sinking with its cargo of The MOL Comfort off Yemen and more recently the lost of over 500 containers by the Maersk Svenborg in a Bay of Biscay storm are but a few of accidents that have been partly attributed to misdeclaration of cargo weights. This and many others made it necessary for the IMO to this time around consider placing the onus of declaring cargo weight on the shipper.
According to the Loadstar, one U.K. based shipping executive admitted that, the problem of overweight containers was endemic in the container industry and while identifying boxes destined for West Africa as being especially troublesome at the moment, he also viewed the problem as being “widespread” across other trades.
He further went on to add that a recent example was of a container declared as household effects, booked for Tema, with a gross weight of 12 tonnes. But which actually contained 30 tonnes of soft drinks.
Added to that, some regional shipper councils have viewed the new amendments as unnecessary since there is no factual evidence that a serious problem of shippers misdeclaring container weights exists. Others also feel a container goes through so many other channels in the supply chain process and that the shipper should not be solely responsible for rightful weight declaration. The IMO on the other hand feels this is necessary to protect and safe guard life at sea.
The implementation of this regulation would then give rise to the question of how shippers would be able to know the exact weight of their cargo since weighing facilities may not be readily available at a shippers disposal. A possible solution is for shippers to patronize weighing bridges which of course is going to cost the shipper.
Furthermore, another appropriate solution could be the twistlock load sensing technology at the terminals. This technology installed on yard cranes and lift trucks would help determine the weight as container is being loaded. The real time weighing of containers could prevent delays since actual weight could be sent to the TOS to ensure accurate weights are used in ship load plans. This could help achieve the objective of the new SOLAS amendment which is focused on ensuring accurate weights declared.
The flip side of this is that, the cost of installing this weight measuring technology on spreaders and its effective integration into terminal operating systems would be an extra cost for terminal operators. There is however, the potential for terminal operators to charge a token for offering these weighing services either from the shipping line or the shipper who is now mandated to provide accurate gross weight of cargo.
While this would serve as a return on investment for the terminal operators, it would on the other hand serve as an extra cost for the shipper. Indeed one policy adviser to the European Shippers’ Council have been quoted by the Loadstar to claim that not only is the mandatory weighing of containers prior to shipment unnecessary, but could cost shippers worldwide an estimated $5 billion a year in extra costs.
In conclusion, the challenge of misdeclaring cargo weight is a major issue that puts lives of seafarers’ at risk. Whether the weight is under-declared or over-declared it has an effect on the load plan of the ship. A misdeclared weight of a container also has a multiple effect on the entire journey of that particular ‘box’ through every stage of the supply chain process being it on the road, on the rails etc.
The IMO should therefore collaborate with the regional shipper councils’ to educate shippers on the implementation of this regulation as well as the need and importance of declaring the right cargo weights to ensure safety of life at sea.
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