A new regulation requiring the gross mass of a container to be verified before it is loaded onto a ship enters into force today (1 July 2016). It will assist in ensuring that the millions of containers carried on ships each year are optimally stowed, thereby helping to prevent container stacks collapsing and containers being lost overboard, and the associated injury and loss of life.
Some 170 million containers are loaded onto ships each year, bringing vital commodities as well as consumer goods to billions of people around the globe.
In 2011, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of pollution from ships, began to develop measures to prevent the loss of containers, in response to concerns expressed by Member States and the shipping industry following a number of incidents involving loss of containers and container ships.
The aim was to develop further measures to complement the existing provisions aimed at the stability and safe operation of ships, including the safe packing, handling and transport of containers.
A key element of this work was the verification of the mass of a packed container. This would complement the existing requirement to declare the gross mass of cargo and containers.
According to the amendments to SOLAS regulation VI/2, now in force, either of two methods can be used 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 must ensure that the verified gross mass of each packed container is stated in the shipping document. This document, signed by the shipper or his representative, must be submitted to the master or his representative, and to the terminal representative, in good time for the ship stowage plan to be drawn up. If not, the container shall not be loaded onto the ship.
IMO Member States, shippers and shipping industry organizations have been preparing for implementation of the new requirement since it was adopted in 2014.
In May, IMO Member States meeting at the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) agreed that Administrations and port State control authorities should adopt a practical and pragmatic approach when verifying compliance during the first three months following entry into force of the new requirement, with a view to permitting packed containers which were loaded prior to 1 July 2016 to be shipped to their final port of discharge without verified gross mass information. The above approach is also intended to allow for flexibility to all the stakeholders in containerized transport in order for procedures for documenting, communicating and sharing verified gross mass information to be refined, if necessary (MSC.1/Circ.1548).
Further information including a "frequently asked questions" on the new regulation can be found here.
 In 2014, global containerized trade was estimated to have increased by 5.3 per cent and reached
171 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent unit. Source: UNCTAD Review of Maritime Transport 2015