Proposals to improve safety by getting better information about the true weight of loaded shipping containers failed to move forward last week during subcommittee meeting at the International Martime Organization.
Two proposals had been submitted to the 17th session of the Subcommittee on Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes, and Containers (DSC 17).
One would require loaded containers to be weighed to verify their weight as a condition of vessel loading and was submitted by the United States, Denmark, the Netherlands, and several trade associations including the World Shipping Council, BIMCO, International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH), International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), and International Transport Workers Federation.
The other, submitted by Germany, would allow the box to either be weighed or allow the shipper to weigh the contents of the box and add that to the container tare weight.
According to Chris Koch, president and chief executive officer of the World Shipping Council, a working group reached a compromise and recommended that the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention be amended to require that loaded container weights be verified.
That verification could be achieved through the shipper’s signed declaration of the container weight, obtained either by weighing the container, or by weighing all the contents of the container and adding the container tare weight to the weight of the contents.
If a shipper did not provide such a signed weight verification, the carrier and terminal operator would have the option of weighing the container to obtain the verified weight and thereby keep commerce moving, rather than stopping the further movement of the box, but weight verification would be required as a condition of a vessel operator and terminal operator loading a container aboard a ship.
The World Shipping Council said the compromise was “derailed” by a few IMO members.
It said a Panama representative stated even though it understood the importance of accurate container weights for safety it was unable to agree to the compromise and said the proposed SOLAS amendments represented an effort by some to rush things through before all the issues and problems have been carefully considered and clarified. And it said Cyprus also stated it had concerns with the proposed SOLAS amendments.
The World Shipping Council said the United States observed the issues raised by Panama and Cyprus had already been identified by the working group as those that should be addressed/clarified in the yet-to-be-developed guidelines.
Greece had said it could agree to proposed SOLAS amendments provided that they be amended to make clear that the master – whenever in doubt about the weight of a container – could require the box to be weighed.
Koch said a “correspondence group” will be formed by the IMO, but expressed concern “some may try to re-litigate all the issues.”
“One cannot speculate with any confidence about whether this correspondence group will be able to reach agreement on draft SOLAS amendments and guidelines for submission to DSC 18 in September 2013. If it does, it is theoretically possible that the time line for approval of the SOLAS amendments could see entry into force by mid-2017,” he said. “Alternatively, those resisting change may continue to succeed in delaying an effective regulatory response by the IMO to this problem.”
Chris Welsh, secretary general of the Global Shippers' Forum (GSF), said his group has “great sympathy” for the United States/World Shipping Council's proposal and is prepared to work with them. GSF will be represented in the correspondence group.
GSF held teleconferences and webinars on the issue last month. Welsh said that among shippers around the world there is “a spread of different views” on how verification of container weights should be achieved, but agreement on whatever rule is adopted should be “do-able and practical.”
While IAPH supports the U.S./World Shipping Council proposal, Welsh said some ports object to “extending the responsibility to the terminal operator to also be a responsible party in the supply chain to do this.”
Peter Gatti, executive vice president of the National Industrial Transportation League, which represents shippers in the United States said “from a shipper’s perspective having flexibility and options of arriving at an accurate weight seems to make a lot of sense.” - Chris Dupin