(This editorial was written for a magazine about a month ago; posting it now after it has been published there.)
Better late than never? Err, not really.
The IMO’s SOLAS amendments on container weight verification will come into force in less than nine months from today. After the first of July next year, no container can be loaded for export on a container ship unless its weight has been verified (VGM- verified gross mass) in one of two ways by the shipper: a) by weighing the container after it has been stuffed or b) by taking the individual weights of everything that has gone into the container- cargo, pallets, lashing material et al- and adding the weight of the empty container weight to it.
The rules do not apply to containers loaded on ro-ro’s, probably on the specious reasoning that ship stability issues connected with under declared weights of containers are less critical there. Ignored is the fact that there are many other dangers connected with the widespread scandal of falsification of box weights besides ship stability. How scandalous? Well, how scandalous is it when a declared 30 tonne container actually weighs more than 90 tonnes?
It will probably take many overturned trucks, damaged ships and dead people for the ro-ro exemption to change.
Predictably, shippers resisted the IMO in the run up to the present amendments by bringing up the spectre of delays, unrecoverable cost addition and the paucity of weighbridges or similar mechanisms in some parts of the world. But let us not blame only shippers or freight forwarders; much of the rest of the industry would have liked to continue ignoring the problem too. Shipping doesn’t like to rock the boat.
It is also predictable that many interested parties will try their best to circumvent the meat of the amendments after they come into force, especially where the second VGM method- adding the weights of everything inside the container to its TARE weight- is adopted. That road is full of holes anyway; how on earth does any certifying authority verify the weight of all small parcels of cargo, or the weight of lashing material, dunnage, pallets and packing material that has gone into the container in some remote inland container yard? This method will, in my opinion, be subverted by the mind-set of the same folk who have been fraudulently declaring container weights for years. Like their brethren in the bulk trades who falsify moisture content documents related to ores and ore fines, these shippers have been allowed- literally- to get away with murder for decades.
So what do we do? Well, just one small thing, really. Amend these SOLAS amendments even before they come into force. Scrap method two.