In January 2015, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a sub division of the United Nations, amended the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) to require that the shipper is responsible for each packed container to be loaded onto a ship for export must first have a verified weight. This rule was brought on by the IMO since there were carrier concerns over mis-declared container weights and overstuffed containers contributing to accidents on sea and shore. This requirement became legally effective on July 1st, 2016, causing a slight ripple and annoyance within the shipping industry.
With some shippers accusing container lines of putting the cart ahead of the horse in implementation, there was still great uncertainty over how to define the proper container weight and how to transmit data to carriers. Many have also complained about a lack of global standardization and global enforcement protocols, while carriers and marine terminals are criticized on being free to set their own rules for transmission methods, timeframes, and consequences for incomplete or untimely data. Many also say it’s unfair to hold the shipper accountable for the accuracy of the container’s tare weight when the equipment may possibly belong to the carrier, or to a third-part leasing company.
Now that the trial period of adopting a “practical and pragmatic” approach to VGM regulations has ended October 1st, Risk Management Director Peregrine Storrs-Fox said that the high rate of compliance is “encouraging” – however “it remains to be seen whether the declared VGMs are accurate, representing the result of an actual weighing process.” Since anecdotal evidence suggests that many shippers are simply adding the tare mass of the container to the previously declared weight of the cargo in order to calculate GVM, according to many in the industry. VGM seems to add more problems than it solves, with significant IT communication challenges, and questionable accuracies on full VGM compliance, or how VGM is calculated. With many terminals yet to implement the recommended BAPLIE 2.2 EDIFACT message format, many wonder how these terminals will be able to communicate VGMs to carriers.
With the three month grace period for enforcement now officially ended, the need for regulators to continue their work in a uniform standard of enforcement, including a consistency in the degree of latitude given to non-compliant shippers and industry guidelines for VGM rules. These rules are still something that is highly lacking, full of red tape, causing massive backlogs, and imposing heavy costs on exporters – causing headaches for many in the shipping industry. “Everybody wants to avoid disruption and congestion. The best way to do that is to have a common process where the inputs in the system are always the same.” says John Butler, president of the World Shipping Council. He adds, “In terms of your documentation system and compliance system, you try and build it so it works everywhere because that makes it more efficient.”