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The dangers of wrongful cargo weight declaration

   Cargo weight misdeclaration has been one major canker in the maritime industry which has been partly blamed for some maritime accidents and casualties at sea. This particular challenge has been around for a long time and in an attempt to curtail the problem, a new SOLAS amendment will from 2016 place the responsibility to declare accurate cargo weight on shippers.

container weights
Dangers of misdeclaring container weight

  Although some regional shipping councils are adamant about the requirements of  this new rule, Industry players  believe it is corporately and socially irresponsible for shippers to not take ownership of this issue. Others also believe such a rule has been long overdue and as such this amendment may have even come a little too late as major accidents could have been prevented if it had been implemented earlier.

Also Read New SOLAS amendment to cost shippers’ extra

   Shippers may declare wrong cargo weight for several reasons,  one common knowledge is  that, many shipments especially to Africa are deliberately under-declared, to minimize import duties which is essentially fraud. 

   The weight of a cargo whether under declared or over declared have serious consequences on the load plan or stowage plan of a vessel. A cargo with under declared weight could be loaded on top of other supposedly heavier ones as the master of the ship might have been misled to believe.  This could eventually lead to serious vessel stability issues resulting in breakup of vessels, containers falling overboard etc. and ultimately leading to loss of lives and properties at sea with its associated impact on the  environment.

   In addition, wrong weight declaration could cause major casualties at container terminals. Ship-to-Shore cranes, forklifts, reachstackers etc have been known to fall under heavy weights which operators might not have anticipated due to wrong weight information provided by shippers.

   Furthermore, the effects of wrongful weight declaration does not only end at the terminals but has an overall effect at every stage of the container’s journey through the entire supply chain process. Hinterland roads suffer from early deterioration as well as rail lines combined with road accidents, trucks breakdowns etc.

road accidents
dangers of overweight containers on the roads

    The eventual  cost to be incurred by shippers as regards the implementation of the new  SOLAS amendment is relatively small, and it is a necessary cost within the overall supply chain to protect the public and all commercial entities from damage or death.

   If the shipping councils believe that costs come before safety and well-fare, then they should state that and be judged on it for ever more.

   In an interview with one maritime consultant, he stated “ Incorrect weights have been an issue since I joined the industry in 1987, and I have been involved in many projects to try to over-come this evil. It is quite close to the heart.”  He further added that packing depots either need to be able to scale the fully loaded container or its cargo prior to stuffing and that scaling any further down the transport cycle is akin to closing the gate after your horses have escaped. 

Also Read Would the implementation of G-CAP be a disincentive to trade?

    In the nutshell, The dangers posed by overweight (or poorly stowed containers) are not exclusive to sea-transportation and risks are even more prevalent on land. Container trucks kill hundred’s if not thousand’s of innocent people the world over every year and therefore it has become necessary for immediate measures to be taken to address this situation. 

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  • Tay

    Great article , hopefully the right authorities would do the right thing to help protect life and property

  • sharon

    Sharon Reyes

    Ship Surveyor/Lecturer/Nautical Officer

    Maybe controls could be considered in fitting electronic devices in way of weight gauges or scales to Cranes and all lifting devices and even in the Containers themselves, ship’s elevators, with alarms indicative of exceeding weight requirements, and even calibrated by Class to add further integrity, but every sector of the industry find someway of confirming their own weights and therefore a moratorium period set for this to become effective, after the devices to be fitted gets SOLAS approval of course…. but Maybe!

    Could even find someway to drop in some Loadline requirement in terms of stability purposes for vessels to establish a more official bases for linking Class..

    Port Bylaws that require weights to be confirmed as to validate Bills of Lading or Mates Certificate which precedes the Bill and can therefore be dealt with at the instant of loading the cargo…

    If we are ever going to see unmanned ships we have to move ahead with equipping our services throughout with that forward-thinking kind of fittings we will need as measures and checks that are compatible for that foresight and therefore with that intent in mind we will automatically begin to see the best solutions to provide for the areas we now find difficulty in manning controllably and therefore considered unmanned, and promote professionally competent.

    It is always adds to a more stable, harmonious and uniform operation when all hands on board within the circuit of operations take responsibility, so all discontent is prevented with only one or a few having to undertake what is such a lifesaving security of cargo and environmental protection responsibility. Such an action should also eventually effectively lower Insurance costs in all areas of accidents, loss of cargo, loss of lives, mishaps at sea and ashore and all the negative aspects that this article has taken into consideration.

    A very good article that calls attentions to a very needy area of safety that warrants attention as seemingly neglected as to provide adequate solutions to prevent mishaps from being its only inheritance…

    • Andy Lane

      Good points Sharon, and these are shared by several others.

      Two issues exist in weighing containers at container terminals. Firstly they have already completed an aspect of their journey, so they might have already caused damage or safety issues, similar to that depicted in the picture within the article.

      Secondly, the first terminal lift will be with a yard crane, by which time the container will have been planned to land in a specific yard location based upon its destination and weight. If an error is detected at this time, one of two scenarios can happen. The container can be landed, but will require internal movement later. Or it can be placed back on the delivering chassis, and sent somewhere else in the yard. Both scenarios will cause aspects of inefficiency, in what is often the bottleneck of the terminal.

      They can be weigh-bridged at gate in, but again they have already travelled through communities by road, rail or inland waterway by that time, so it is a little late in the process.

      The shippers need to take full responsibility for providing an accurate weight for all containers for which they arrange the packing – this has been absent for too long (10-20 years) and during which time many accidents have occurred. The packing houses will need to either weigh the loaded container after stuffing or weight individual contents before or during stuffing. This will cause some pain for sure.

      Thing is, there will always be pain, and pushing down the supply chain does not make it any less. Many shippers and shipper councils are not keen on new regulations, that is maybe natural. They have had a voice in the discussions leading to these new regulations, and unfortunately now they will merely need to adapt their processes to comply with what has been decided on a global level within the entire industry.

      Best Regards,


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