Verified weight requirements could result in confusion for shippers

Shippers have requested a three-month period with less enforcement to ensure a smooth transition

Agri-food exporters who ship by container have to start providing the shipping lines with a verified weight before the box reaches the port terminal under an international agreement that came into effect July 1.

Last year the 162 member countries of the International Maritime Organization agreed to require verified container weights under the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention.

The measure is intended to provide accurate weights for all containers so the heaviest ones are loaded at the bottom of the rows of boxes on a container ship. Having heavier boxes high in the stack can upset the stability of a container ship.

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Each country had to decide what weighing systems are acceptable. Many countries, including the United States, have made little progress in setting a national verification system.

Canada is only the 12th of 162 IMO members to formally adopt a verified weight policy. As Transport Canada didn’t release its version until May 19, there was considerable uncertainty in the freight community about how it would be implemented by shipping lines and port terminals.

Bob Ballantyne, president of the Freight Management Association of Canada, said the policy still contains a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up in order to be predictable.

“Basically the situation for shippers will vary from terminal to terminal and from day to day,” he said.

He hopes the government will accept a recommendation the IMO made in June to provide leeway in enforcing the new rules because it took Transport Canada so long to establish them.

Karl-Heinz Legler, general manager of Rutherford Global Logistics and the representative of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association in consultations on the policy, said Transport’s policy “does not address the commercial aspects between ocean carriers, their respective port and/or inland terminal and the shipper on the bill of lading with regards to verified gross mass reporting methods.”

As a result carriers were setting their own standards while terminal operators were deciding whether to accept uncertified containers, he said. Often terminal acceptance procedures are based on terminal space availability for containers that haven’t been weighed and whether acceptable weight scales were available and the amount of traffic through the terminal.

“What I foresee is an amalgam of different container acceptance procedures being requested by carriers in their booking confirmations,” Legler said. “This can be confusing for shippers who ship to multiple destinations overseas and thus may have to use different ocean carriers and export-container accepting terminals.”

The industry began discussing the issue with Transport Canada last fall. It hoped that as the government was taking a minimalist approach to the policy, it would be announced in January so there would be sufficient time to iron out issues.

Ballantyne and others had pushed the department to decide on which recommended approach for verified weights would be acceptable. One was to weigh the loaded box and the other to add up the weight of all its contents plus the empty box. In the end, Transport Canada decided to accept both.

The IMO urged in mid-June that for a few months after the July 1 implementation date, “some leeway should be provided in order for any problems resulting from software updates, required for the electronic collection and transmittal of verified gross mass data, to be rectified without causing delays to containers being loaded.”

Three months should be long enough for shipping lines and ports to decide how to implement national rules especially for containers loaded before but shipped after July 1 without a verified weight, the IMO said. That period of grace would allow “all the stakeholders in containerized transport to refine, if necessary, procedures for documenting, communicating and sharing electronic verified gross mass data.”

Legler feared the uncertainty would result in non-acceptance of containers at terminals, extra costs and shipment delays. “What we wish for now is as smooth as possible a startup period and the hope that good communication, co-operation and lots of common sense prevails amongst all stakeholders in making the program a success in Canada.”

There is also uncertainty about how terminals that only accept container weights electronically will handle trucks delivering containers with a verified weight document, he said.

In essence, the Transport Canada policy says, “A packed container will not be loaded onto the ship until the master or his representative and terminal representative either receive the shipping document containing the verified gross mass of the container or have the verified gross mass of the container.”

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