The International Maritime Organization (IMO) amended SOLAS (International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea) regulations in 2014 to require shippers to measure and certify the weight of each freight container before it is loaded onto an ocean carrier.
July 1, 2016 marks the day these new international treaty guidelines will take effect. As of today, no consensus has been reached on how to implement the rules in the U.S. while a major exporting coalition is calling on Congress to revise or revoke the law.
Previously, shippers only needed to report the total weight of their cargo, not the weight of each container, which is owned by the ocean carrier. Seeking to address the safety of shipping crews and dock workers, the new SOLAS rules makes the shipper responsible for the Verified Gross Mass (VGM) of the container.
The new regulations are arousing debate in the U.S. Many freight forwarders and exporters are concerned that it will add unnecessary time and cost to the transportation of goods, contending that current regulations calling for the total weight of the cargo to be certified is enough.
The Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC), an alliance of U.S. exporters, is asking Congress to change or revoke the law. Congress will hold a hearing next week on this controversial regulation.
In the past, especially outside of the U.S., a small minority of overweight shipping containers have caused instability while at sea and accidents on the dock. However, SOLAS did not provide evidence that the new requirements would improve safety for workers, AgTC said.
The AgTC also said the new regulations would put U.S. agricultural, forestry, and manufacturing exports at further disadvantage. Competing countries such as Brazil and Russia have not yet issued any guidance for SOLAS’ new regulations.
Although the regulations go into effect on July 1 of this year, the U.S. Coast Guard announced in January that it would not be penalizing shippers for not following these conventions. The U.S. Coast Guard’s understands the new rules as “business practices” between shippers and carriers.
“SOLAS places no legal obligation on the shipper. It places a legal obligation only on the vessel subject to SOLAS,” Admiral Zukunft of the U.S. Coast Guard told an audience at the Trans-Pacific Maritime Conference. “So if you need to meet that obligation by working on a better business practice with your partners, that’s where you need to focus.”
The IMO calls for international compliance but it is up to each individual nation to enforce the treaty laws. A lack of enforcement in the U.S., however, may set the tone for other countries.
Stakeholders, including freight forwarders and industry associations such as the World Shipping Organization and OCEMA, are currently deliberating over the most efficient way to comply with these international regulations.
Photo courtesy of Steven Straiton