There is no denying the fact that traveling by sea has its inherent dangers. For this reason, there should always be concerted efforts to secure the lives of the staff as well as ensure the cargo in transit reaches the intended destination safe and in the desired condition. However, one major challenge that has, over the years, made this goal unattainable is the misdeclaration of cargo weight.
Whether by accident or design, cases of cargo weight misdeclaration were on an upward trend and there was a need to arrest this trend before it could possibly flare up into unmanageable proportions. This is where the SOLAS came in.
But what is it?
SOLAS is an acronym for Safety of Life at Sea and it is a convention that is implemented by the International Maritime Organisation. This convention is enshrined under regulation 2 of Chapter VI and it mandates the declaration of the VGM [Verified Gross Mass] of any packed container before the container can be loaded onto a shipping vessel within a prescribed cut-off date and port terminal authorities.
In a bid to arrest the worrying trend of misdeclaration of cargo weight, the IMO decided to amend this convention, effective July 1st 2016. The new regulation now stipulates that either of the two approved cargo weight declaration methods shall be used by the shipper or a shipping representative.
The immediate implications of this amendment is, of course, the fact that all shippers or their representatives will be obliged to verify the total gross weight of their containers before loading them onto a shipping vessel. The direct consequence of ignoring the VGM documentation by shippers is missing their booked vessel, an inconvenience no one would want to experience.
There will also be some wide-reaching implications of this amendment such as the reduction in incidences of cargo claims as well as structural damages that are often caused as a result of cargo weight misdeclaration.
Perhaps the most important purpose of this new law is that the VGM document will allow vessel and terminal operators to estimate vessel loading as well as stowage plans even before cargo containers can be loaded on ships. This will go a long way in protecting the staff at the cargo terminals as well as the cargo in transit.
It is important to note that this document should be acquired prior to loading any cargo onto ships, though there is no authority formation as yet with regards to how soon a shipper or their gent will need to have the document before the actual shipping process begins.
What The Document Entails
The SOLAS VGM, as already stated, shall be availed by the shipper before the vessel loading date. The shipper, in this case, shall refer to the party that is listed on the sea waybill or the Bill of Lading. On the other hand, the loading date shall refer to the date as stated on the booking information provided by the shipper.
The VGM document shall contain details of the container number and the seal number as well as the number of pieces loaded. It will also include information on the tare weight of the container and the total weight of all the cargo loaded onto the container. The total weight shall include ay securing materials such as bracing and skids, commonly referred to as dunning.
Additionally, it is important to note that this rule on declaration shall apply to ALL Containers, bulk containers, tank containers and even flat racks. In a bid to forestall any unscrupulous weighing practices, this new rule mandates all shippers to use weighing scales that are calibrated and certified by relevant agencies.
There are two basic means of arriving at the VGM namely;
· -Weighing the packed container after all the cargo has been loaded and
· -Weighing all packages and dunnage materials and then adding the tare weight of the container.
The tare weight, also known as the unladed weight is the weight of an empty container and it is often indicated on the door end of the container.
The declaration of the VGM will go a long way in upholding accountability among shippers and shipping representatives. Critics observe that it may be that one magic pill that will solve the endemic problem of cargo claims in shipping terminals.