More News on the SOLAS Roll-Out

Below is an article that was published today in the Journal of Commerce that provides a thorough summary on the current status of the SOLAS roll-out.   We realize that the lack of clear direction and the variety of implementation policies published by different countries makes it difficult to instruct your suppliers or plan for your exports. We are working with all of our global offices and carrier partners to ensure that we will be prepared and that our shippers will be prepared.  While the shipper is the responsible party to supply the VGM (Verified Gross Mass), the carriers will shoulder the burden of ensuring that the VGM is received and the container admitted to the terminal.   Verifying case weights and reporting cargo weight is currently common practice, and while the VGM process will add another step in the process, we will be prepared to fully implement the practice and assist all of our shippers.

Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.  Thank you!

SOLAS slowly and unevenly takes shape worldwide

SOLAS verified gross mass VGM IMO container weights

There are now less than 100 days before a new international container weight rule goes into effect and the rollout is taking shape in very different ways in each of the 162 participating nations, with some governments giving clear guidelines while others haven’t provided any direction at all to date.

Effective July 1, container lines will be obligated to reject any box that doesn’t have a Verified Gross Mass, or VGM, according to an International Maritime Organization amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea, or SOLAS, treaty.

Among those nations with guidelines, the language varies, not only with attention to detail, but in the severity of penalties and fines shippers and carriers could face if they are found in noncompliance. That wide variation is lending credence to industry concerns that the rule remains mired in confusion so close to an international deadline.

Only 10 countries to date have had their guidelines and regulations published to the website of the World Shipping Council, a group that represents roughly 90 percent of global container capacity and was a major player in the creation of the new rule. Those 10 are just a fraction of the 162 signatories to the SOLAS treaty.

Moreover, the published documents are at different levels of finalization. Whereas Canada has produced draft procedures; Argentina has full-on regulations; Australia, a discussion paper; Denmark, a preliminary order.

No signatory, yet, has challenged the methodology for obtaining a container’s VGM. The SOLAS mandate is clear that it requires shippers to give carriers the VGM of onboarding containers gained either by weighing the container after it is loaded and sealed, known as Method 1, or weighing each individual package and cargo item and adding the tare weight of the container to the sum of the single masses, Method 2.

The U.S. Coast Guard has staked out a very hands-off approach, saying it most likely would only occasionally check for VGM on inbound containers, and it will hold cargo without a VGM until the country of the ship’s flag nation clears the cargo. It is not even clear, at this point, if the Coast Guard would levy a punishment against the carrier for loading a container without a VGM, a violation of the container weight mandate.

Other maritime administrations, though, have been operating under the understanding that the shipper is ultimately responsible for misdeclared weights, creating penalties for shippers in violation of the rule. Canada and Japan, for example, have already said that shippers could face various fines if they misdeclare the weight of their containers.

The guidelines on implementation published by the South African Maritime Safety Authority take a similarly more hardline approach.

Shippers that have misdeclared their VGM may face prosecution, according to the guidelines published Jan. 21.

If the South African authority or an appointed third party identifies that a shipper has misdeclared the gross mass of a packed container, the authority has the right to require that the appointed third party, suspend or revoke the “shipper’s approval.” After this, the offending shipper must use Method 1 to verify the gross mass of a packed container, limiting the opportunity for misdeclaration of weights inside the container.

Otherwise, the authority could require an “admission of contravention” to be signed and paid, failing which, the alleged contravention will be prosecuted, the guidelines state.

When it comes to a margin of error for container weights, “SOLAS does not provide for a margin of error,” the document states bluntly.

South Africa stands out among the SOLAS signatories for its attention to detail, as well as the severity of its penalties.

Across the Atlantic, Argentina’s lead agency takes a softer approach to misdeclared VGMs.

According to the regulations published by the Argentine Naval Prefecture dated March 8, the South American country has established no penalties, to date, associated with supplying the wrong VGM to carriers.

Unlike South Africa’s lead agency, Argentina does provide a 5 percent margin of error for container VGMs.

“If there were clear grounds for believing that the information declared does not match the actual gross mass of the packed container, the terminal may weigh the container,” according to the agency document. “This weighing shall be the responsibility of the shipper only if the verification results in a difference that is greater than the allowed tolerance.”

Like Argentina, Denmark’s maritime authority does prescribe a margin of error, but only for a specific method and only during a specific timeframe.

“As an alternative to a suitable weight (method 1), measuring equipment ensuring that the weight of the packed container is established within an accuracy of +/- 1,000 kg may be used,” a preliminary order from the Danish Maritime Authority reads.

That margin of error, however, is to only be in effect “during the period until 30 June 2017.” After which, it is unclear if any deviation will be permitted.

The preliminary order only notes that the authority recognizes that Method 2 may result in deviations in VGM. “Such deviations shall be documented and handled as a part of the shipper’s quality management system. In this connection, it shall be ensured that the sum of these deviations is inconsiderable compared to the actual weight.”

Highlighting further the lack of harmony among these various regulations is the fact that Germany’s initial container loading protocol on the country’s Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure website includes no reference to margins of error or possible penalties whatsoever.

Contact Reynolds Hutchins at and follow him on Twitter: @Hutchins_JOC.

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