Container Weighing

The primary responsibility for the safe transport of containers by sea rests with containership operators. However, there are many other parties in the transport chain concerned with the safe movement of containers including those shippers from whom the cargo originates. A particular concern is the possibility that shippers may sometimes overload containers and declare incorrect cargo weights, which can present a serious risk to the safety of ships and the lives of their crews.

In July 2016, new SOLAS requirements for mandatory container weighing will enter into force following agreement at IMO in 2014. These require shippers to provide a verified gross weight for containers as a condition for their cargo being accepted for loading on board ship. The amendments were adopted by IMO Member States following a long debate lasting several years, initiated at the request of joint submissions made by ICS and the World Shipping Council.

The new SOLAS requirements allow shippers two methods to verify the gross container weight, either by weighing the loaded unit or by calculating the final weight by adding the weight of the packed cargo, dunnage and packing plus the container unit itself. Where a verified gross weight is not provided, SOLAS permits the terminal or the Master of the ship to refuse to load the container.

The jury is still out on whether shippers, freight forwarders, terminals and maritime administrations will have policies and procedures in place to fulfil the SOLAS requirements by the July implementation date, and statements by some shipper organisations seem to indicate that there are varying levels of preparedness.

In early 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard suggested that it did not have any responsibility to enforce the new requirement, regarding container weighing as a commercial matter rather than a safety issue, a position which contradicts that taken by the United States throughout the development of the SOLAS amendments.

Concerns also remain as to the effect that different nationally accepted tolerances for the accuracy of weighing equipment might have on the verified weights and the implications for stability and safety of ships after loading.

Despite these uncertainties, ICS remains firmly committed to ensuring that containers are only loaded on board ship if their weights have been accurately verified. Throughout 2016, ICS will co-operate with other industry partners, not least the World Shipping Council, to monitor implementation worldwide.

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