News 31 May, 2016

SOLAS - Verified Gross Mass of Packed Containers

In November 2014 the IMO Maritime Safety Committee adopted Resolution MSC 380(94) - Amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974, as Amended, which added new paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 to SOLAS Regulations VI/2, requiring the gross mass of packed containers to be verified and declared prior to loading. This SOLAS amendment enters into force on 1st July 2016.

The new regulations apply to all packed containers being loaded on vessels, except those on a chassis or trailer being driven onboard a ro-ro vessel engaged in short international voyages. Shippers are required to verify the weight of every packed container either by means of weighing the packed container using calibrated and certified equipment, or by weighing each individual item of cargo, as well as all dunnage, pallets and securing materials, and adding all these masses to the tare mass of the container to give a total gross mass. The latter weighing arrangement is to be a certified method approved by the competent authority of the State in which the packing was completed. Although dependant on individual State requirements, as part of the approval process the whole operation, including weighing method, calibration procedures for equipment, and training of personnel may be scrutinised, and could include a documentary review as well as an audit of the actual systems and processes.

The Verified Gross Mass (VGM) of each packed container is to be stated in the shipping documents, which must be signed by a person duly authorised by the shipper. The shipping documents must be submitted to the Master or his representative, as well as to the terminal representative, sufficiently in advance of loading, as may be required by the Master or his representative, so that the masses can be used in the preparation of the stowage plan. The shipping documents may be submitted using approved electronic methods, and the signature may be an electronic signature or the name, in capitals, of the person authorised to sign.

If the VGM of a packed container has not been declared in the shipping documents and the Master or his representative and the terminal representative have not obtained the VGM using either of the two previously prescribed methods, then that container must not be loaded. An estimation of a packed container’s VGM is not permitted.

With the new regulations due to enter into force shortly, the IMO has noted the concerns raised by a number of member States at the recent ninety-sixth session of the Maritime Safety Committee, regarding the VGM of transhipped packed containers and the communication of VGM information, during the initial period following the entry into force of the new regulations. The IMO has subsequently published MSC.1/Circ.1548 – Advice to Administrations, Port State Control Authorities, Companies, Port Terminals and Masters regarding the SOLAS Requirements for Verified Gross Mass of Packed Containers. MSC.1/Circ.1548 recommends that Administrations and Port State Control, should, for a period of three months following the introduction of the regulations; (a) permit packed containers that are loaded prior to 1st July 2016, and are transhipped on or after this date, be shipped to their final port of discharge without a VGM having been provided, and (b) allow industry stakeholders flexibility to refine, where necessary, procedures for documenting, communicating and sharing VGM information.

Further details on the VGM of a packed container can be found in MSC.1/Circ.1475 - Guidelines Regarding the Verified Gross Mass of a Container Carrying Cargo.

Details of the requirements of some National Administrations, in relation to the determination and provision of VGM, can be found at the following links:

Canada - Ship Safety Bulletin 04/2016 - Canadian Procedure for Verification of the Gross Mass of Packed Containers

Germany - FAQ Safety and Security - VGM

Hong Kong - FAQs on the VGM of a Container Carrying Cargo under SOLAS Chapter VI/2

South Africa - SAMSA Marine Notice 18/16 - Guidelines on the Implementation of SOLAS VI/2 Amendment - VGM of Packed Containers

UK - MGN 534 - Guidance on the Implementation of SOLAS VI/2

USA -  Freehill Hogan and Mahar Client Alert – USCG Addresses Industry Concerns Regarding the Forthcoming Implementation of the SOLAS Container Weight (“VGM”) Requirements

Members requiring any further guidance should contact the Loss Prevention department.