08 April 2016

[080416.EN.SEA] EU Forwarders Look With Dread On Uncertainties of UN Box Weigh-in Rule

EUROPEAN forwarders in CLECAT (Comite de Liaison Europeen des Commissionnaires et Auxiliaires de Transport) say they need transparent, coordinated action by carriers and national authorities ahead of the implementation of the UN's compulsory verified weigh-in rule on July 1.

"Authorities must outline their policies to implement the amendment, and must coordinate to the greatest extent possible," said Aidan Flanagan, senior policy advisor for CLECAT.

The UN's Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention amendment says all shippers and or their agents, forwarders in most cases, must provide a "verified gross mass" (VGM) or weight on the container and all it contains before it can board ship.

It appears that few really want the rule unless it creates no problems. Trouble is, it does. Even the carriers, who say they want it, really don't if it means turning away cargo.

So when they say no box will board without a verified gross mass number, what they mean is that no box will board without a declared verified gross mass number. Nobody need verify anything so far.

The US Coast Guard has refused the role of enforcer, though retaining its long-standing right of refusing to allow dangerous cargo to board ship. But the US will decide what's dangerous, not the UN.

Terminal operators, whose machinery can weigh containers as they are loaded, does not want to shoulder the liability of getting it wrong, which might come back and bite them if a weight they provided figured in a law suit.

One port will airily says it will enforce it the rule, which has not been through any national or local legislative process, but is an amendment to an international treaty passed in 1914 after the sinking of the Titanic and mostly deals with lifeboats. But it is doubtful that these ports are willing to induce cargo to divert to less conscientious ports.

Said Mr Flanagan: "Forwarders are affected by disparities and lack of clarity over how national authorities will implement the rules. This includes which, if any, margin of error will be accepted in different countries. "

CLECAT advocates a margin of five per cent with a minimum variation of 500 kilogrammes for containers with a VGM of under 10 tonnes, he said.

"This will allow some flexibility so as to not create blockages to the supply chain by unduly refusing carriage, while also not jeopardising safety and therefore the purpose of the rules," he said.

As the forwarder is not actually loading the container, they do not qualify to verify the weight under the calculation method, said Mr Flanagan, indicating a dread of liability should things go wrong.

Furthermore, the shipper will have established the verified weight using this method, so re-determining the weight would be to reproduce a legal document which already exists.

CLECAT's recently-issued guidelines on implementing the amendment recommend that the forwarder issue their own document stating the verified gross mass (VGM), using the information received from the shipper.

What must be avoided, it says, is the prospect of containers sitting on the dockside having been refused carriage, due to overly rigid interpretation of the rules.

"The carriers' position is unambiguous: no VGM means no loading. Procedures are therefore required in order to ensure that a VGM obtained from a shipper and transmitted back-to-back to the carrier by a forwarder is recognised and accepted.

Source : HKSG.

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