Exporting professionals have expressed worry that a new rule which kicked in on July 1, requiring shipping containers’ weight to be verified prior to loading, will have a detrimental effect on the industry and lead to port congestion. Manufacturing companies, retailers and farmers have expressed apprehension that the newly enacted amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) will cause major delays at ports across the globe while simultaneously raising transportation costs.
United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) amended the SOLAS in 2014, stating shippers have the option betweentwo methods of determining container weight. The first method involves weighing the container after it has been packed, while the second is weighing all cargo and contents and adding them to the tare weight of the container. Also important is that the container’s packers may not use a weight used by another party with one exception: individual packages which are original sealed and include the accurate mass of all cargo items marked permanently. Under no circumstances is estimation of the cargo weight permitted.
With containers pre-weighed before being loaded onto the ships, carriers can more accurately and safely load their vessels. The amendment hopes to lower the incidences of heavier containers crushing or toppling the stack below – several high profile incidences prompted the IMO to draft the new law.
Much of the confusion is owed to the fact that this recently enacted law offers no specific guidelines for implementation. Instead, it simply states that “Shippers, freight forwarders, vessel operators, and terminal operators will all need to establish policies and procedures to ensure the implementation of this regulatory change.” Many countries have declared themselves ill-equipped to accommodate this new rule and the result will be increased port congestion, jeopardizing recent loss decreases in the industry.
Some ports provide weighing service for shippers, so for those markets the concert over SOLAS’s latest amendment is dampened. However, many ports across the globe will not or are not able to offer the service. The world’s biggest ports, such as those of Long Beach and Los Angeles, have multiple terminals that carry their own individual policies. Considering that the two ports process 14 million containers a year, this SOLAS amendment is a major piece of Port of LA news. Unsurprisingly, the many vagaries of the law have Los Angeles drayage service companies feeling much uncertainty.
There are several issues facing exporters – the biggest of which is the fact that so few were even aware of the amendment, even as its start date loomed ever-closer.A survey conducted by container booker Intrra Inc. found that 57% of respondents (shippers, carriers and other global trade players) were unaware or vaguely familiar with the new rule. Even more concerning, 60% believed shippers would not be ready for its July 1 implementation.
There is a bit of good news to ease the minds of shippers, exporters and drayage service providers who are uncertain about how to proceed. The IMO has urged that ports practice leniency for three months after the law comes into effect. This grace period should allow all parties to coordinate and communicate a standard operating procedure for the future under the amended SOLAS.
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