On 1 July 2016, new requirements to verify the gross mass of a packed container enter into force under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

This is an important safety measure, which is aimed at saving lives and preventing injury and the destruction of property as knowing the accurate gross mass of a packed container is critical to ensure correct stowage and stacking and avoid collapse of container stacks or loss overboard. 

There has always been a requirement in SOLAS to declare the gross mass of cargo and containers. The new requirement adds an extra level requiring verification of the mass to ensure that the mass declared is a true reflection of the gross mass of the packed container, in order to avoid injury, cargo damage, loss of containers, and so on.  

The SOLAS regulation allows for two methods to verify the gross mass of packed containers:

·        Method 1. Weighing the packed container using calibrated and certified equipment; or

·        Method 2: Weighing all packages and cargo items, including the mass of pallets, dunnage and other securing material to be packed in the container and adding the tare mass of the container to the sum of the single masses, using a certified method approved by the competent authority of the State in which packing of the container was completed.

The shipper is responsible for providing the Verified Gross Mass (VGM) by stating it in the shipping document and submitting it to the master or his representative and to the terminal representative sufficiently in advance for use in the preparation of the ship stowage plan.

The verified gross mass is a condition for loading a packed container onto a ship. A packed container, for which the verified gross mass has not been obtained sufficiently in advance to be used in the ship stowage plan, will be denied loading onto a ship to which the SOLAS regulations apply which means that MCL will not be able to guarantee a smooth handling of your cargo.

Any costs associated with the non-loading, storage, demurrage or eventual return of the container to the tendering shipper of the container will be the responsibility of the party who failed to supply the required info.

While the shipper is responsible for obtaining and documenting the verified gross mass of a packed container, section 13 of the Guidelines regarding the verified gross mass of a container carrying cargo (MSC.1/Circ.1475) contains contingencies for containers received without a verified gross mass.

In order to allow the continued efficient onward movement of such containers, the master or his representative and the terminal representative may obtain the verified gross mass of the packed container on behalf of the shipper.  This may be done by weighing the packed container in the terminal or elsewhere, but MCL will not be responsible for any costs involved for such a procedure.

Latest developments:

The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) at its 96th session in May 2016 agreed that while there should be no delay in the implementation of the SOLAS requirements, it would be beneficial if Administrations and port State control authorities could take a “practical and pragmatic approach” when enforcing them, for a period of three months immediately following 1 July 2016. This would help ensure that containers that are loaded before 1 July 2016, but transhipped on or after 1 July 2016, reach their final port of discharge without a verified gross mass and it would provide flexibility, for three months immediately after 1 July 2016, to all the stakeholders in containerized transport to refine, if necessary, procedures (e.g. updated software) for documenting, communicating and sharing electronic verified gross mass data.