Pursuant to recent amendments to the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention, Chapter VI, Regulation 2, effective on July 1, 2016, shippers will be required to provide ocean carriers with a certificate of verified gross mass (VGM) for each loaded marine container tendered for shipping.
Various interest groups have suggested that implementation must be delayed because the United States shipping industry is not ready for the impact of this requirement, saying that it will cause delays and make U.S. exports less competitive. They note that shippers and their service providers, including marine terminals and logistics service companies, do not have certified, calibrated equipment to weigh the volume of containers moving in export trades.
Some also have raised questions about whether shippers would be liable for certifying container weight if the tare weight of the container printed on the door is incorrect, whether the certificate process would delay negotiation of export letters of credit, and whether the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) will impose fines or publish an acceptable error tolerance percentage (such as the 5 percent allowance announced by the United Kingdom). Others stated that the rules prevent the shipper from amending a VGM certificate once delivered to the carrier, even if a revised weight figure became available before sailing.
The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) sponsored a "listening session" at which various U.S. shipper and logistics service provider interest groups raised the foregoing questions and concerns. In particular, U.S. agricultural commodities shippers questioned the need for the rule, and sought a delay in the effective date of the rule to allow for preparation time.
The USCG Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy, Rear Adm. Paul Thomas, heard all the issues and questions. At the conclusion of the FMC meeting, he stated the following USCG positions and observations:
Other commentators, including representatives of the World Shipping Council (WSC) and the Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association (OCEMA), commented that there is nothing in the SOLAS regulation precluding amendment to a VGM certificate at any time, and that it would be up to the carrier to manage the procedure. The WSC also noted that under SOLAS a shipper is entitled legally to rely on the tare weight of the container in calculating VGM under SOLAS "Method 2" (weight of goods and packing materials plus tare weight printed on the container). OCEMA has a technical committee that is developing recommended uniform best practices for implementation by carriers, shippers and other parties, and may publish its results in about a month. They are recommending a 24-hour VGM certificate rule to match other existing "no-document-no-load" rules.
It does not appear that there will be any further pronouncements from the U.S. government on VGM implementation.
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