Recent amendments to Chapter VI Regulation 2 of SOLAS - Cargo information

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In a recent decision, the Hong Kong courts held that, as of 2009, it was not trade practice for shippers to weigh the container and cargo contents before loading it onto a vessel for carriage between Hong Kong and Guangzhou. It may be that this would be the trade practice on other regional and global routes. This ruling provides a timely reminder to the liner trade of changes to the law which will be in force in 2016.

The amendments to Chapter VI Regulation 2 of SOLAS will become effective on 1 July 2016. This amendment imposes a mandatory requirement on the shipper of a packed container to verify and provide the container’s gross verified weight to the ocean carrier and port terminal representative prior to it being loaded onto a ship flagged by one of the 162 contracting states of SOLAS.

Who is responsible?

The responsibility for obtaining and documenting the verified gross weight of a packed container lies with the shipper named on the ocean carrier’s bill of lading (Chapter VI Reg 2(5)). The verified gross weight is to be used by the terminal operator and vessel operator in ship stowage planning. There is no exception to this requirement. The amendments will become effective on 1 July 2016 by which time all regulated parties must be prepared to implement and abide by the container weight verification requirements.

Under the amended regulation, a packed container may not be loaded onto a ship to which the SOLAS regulations apply without the verified gross mass being obtained and certified (Chapter VI Reg 2(6)). If the shipper fails to do this, measures must be taken for the verified gross weight to be obtained. If the container is transhipped, then there is no need for re-verification on transhipment. The previously obtained certification can be relied upon (IMO Guidelines, Para 12).

Permissible Methods of Weighing

There will be two permissible methods by which the shipper may obtain the verified gross mass of the packed container. The first method involves weighing the packed container using calibrated and certified equipment. The second method is for everything to be weighed separately and the individual weights to then be aggregated. Under the second method, the shipper or a third party must weigh all packages and cargo items, including the pallets, dunnage and other packing and securing material in the container first and then add the weight of the container to generate a single figure for the container and its contents.

Estimating the weight of the container’s contents is not permitted (World Shipping Council Guidelines, Para 4.1.2). A party packing the container cannot use the weight that is provided by somebody else, except in the event where the cargo has been previously weighed and that weight is clearly and permanently marked on the surface of the goods. The scale, weighbridge, lifting equipment and other devices used to verify the gross mass of the container must meet the applicable accuracy standards and requirements of the State in which the equipment is being used.

Communicating the Verified Gross Weight

After obtaining the verified gross weight, the shipper is required to communicate it as part of the shipping instructions to the shipping company or via a separate communication (e.g. a declaration including a weight certificate). In either case, it should clearly highlight the gross mass provided is the ‘verified gross mass’ and signed by a person duly authorised by the shipper (Chapter VI Reg 2(5.2)).

Enforcement of the new requirements will be a local law issue. In Hong Kong, the implementation of the new requirements are currently under consideration by the Ports Operations Committee of the Hong Kong Marine Department. In the UK, Merchant Shipping (Carriage of Cargoes) Regulation 1999 has been amended accordingly and possible penalties range from fines and to imprisonment.

How Ince can help

In our view, the new amendments are to be welcomed. Once implemented, they should reduce the safety hazards mis-declared container weights present for ships, their crews, the cargoes loaded on board and workers in port facilities handling containers.

The effectiveness of the new requirements will ultimately depend on how rigorously they are enforced; the denial of loading onto a ship if no verified gross mass has been obtained will be key. It is therefore important for carriers and shippers alike to consider how these changes will affect their business. We recommend carriers and owners to think now about incorporating necessary clauses in their documentation to allocate responsibility for the payment of any costs associated with these new obligations. It is of course preferable to ensure that responsibility for adhering to the new regulations and the costs of the same are clearly allocated between the parties to the carriage contracts.

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