Industry Issues


Frequently Asked Questions about Container Weight

These FAQs relate to new mandatory rules that apply from 1 July 2016 concerning the requirement of shippers to verify the gross mass of a container carrying cargo. They have been prepared by a coalition of industry experts, jointly lead by the World Shipping Council (WSC), the TT Club (http://www.ttclub.com/) , the International Container Handling and Coordination Association (ICHCA), (http://ichca.com/) and the Global Shippers Forum (GSF). (http://www.globalshippersforum.com/) They were developed in response to questions that have been raised by various stakeholders regarding the revised SOLAS regulation and the accompanying guidelines.

Without a verified gross mass, the packed container shall not be loaded aboard ship. The rules prescribe two methods by which the shipper may obtain the verified gross mass of a packed container. Under Method 1, upon conclusion of packing and sealing a container, the shipper may weigh, or have arranged for a third party to weigh, the packed container. Under Method 2, the shipper or, by arrangement of the shipper, a third party may weigh all packages and cargo items, including the mass of pallets, dunnage and other packing and securing material to be packed in the container, and add the tare mass of the container to the sum of the single masses of the container’s contents. Under either Method 1 or 2, the weighing equipment used must meet the applicable accuracy standards and requirements of the State in which the equipment is being used.

The FAQs have been published in two documents: the initial release in December 2015 and Supplementary FAQs issued in June 2016. Both are available as downloadable PDF files. These SOLAS amendments were adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in November 2014 and become mandatory on 1 July 2016. SOLAS itself has international legal status so there need not be any further implementing legislation for States that are party to the Convention. However, be advised that national rules and regulations may exist and stakeholders should engage with the relevant national Competent Authorities to obtain clarification on such national procedures.

Frequently Asked Questions about Container Weighing (last updated June 27, 2016)

Section A: General

Q: Clearly responsibilities start with the shipper. But who is 'the shipper' in the context of this new procedure?

Q: In the event we buy a product from a foreign supplier on FOB terms, we are the party who is concluding a contract of carriage with the maritime carrier. Due to local rules, the supplier, who is also packing the container, may be identified as shipper on the bill of lading. Which entity is responsible for communicating VGM in a timely fashion?

Q: Is there an agreed format to communicate verified gross mass?

Q: I understand the VGM must be documented on a shipping document.  Is documenting the VGM and signature on the Commercial Invoice and/or Packing List sufficient?

Q: Is there a deadline for when the information must be received by the carrier and the terminal operator?

Q: If the shipper communicates the verified gross mass as required by this regulation, is there then an obligation under either Method 1 or Method 2 on the carrier (or terminal operator) to check the value given for that gross mass and report to the authorities any discrepancy that may be found?

Q: Where a discrepancy is found in the declared VGM, what are the obligations of the carrier and terminal?

Q: Is the terminal operator required to obtain the VGM directly from the shipper, or can the carrier transmit the VGM to the terminal operator after the carrier receives it from the shipper?

Q: If goods are put onto a feeder ship from, for example, Grangemouth (UK) that proceeds to Rotterdam (Netherlands), will verified gross mass have to be established in Grangemouth or Rotterdam or both places?

Q: The requirement is for accurate gross mass; is there a margin of error defined for this 'accuracy'?

Q: How accurate does the VGM need to be? Is there a percentage +/- or is there +/- mass?

Q: Given that there is no single international approval for weighing equipment, does this mean that different standards will be applied around the world, making it uncertain whether equipment can be approved internationally or whether values given will be accepted globally?

Q: How accurate does the verified gross mass need to be considering environmental factors of influence such as humidity on wood (pallets), carton (if used as primary packaging), etc.?

Q: Will governments apply an enforcement tolerance threshold for determining compliance with the SOLAS requirements?

Q: How will this be enforced and what will be the level of penalties imposed by an Administration if a container is delivered by a shipper to a carrier with a mis-declared gross mass or if a shipper does not provide the verified gross mass for a packed container?

Q: The SOLAS requirement derives from safety aspects. Cargo mass information may also be required for Customs purposes. If the verified gross mass declared for SOLAS purposes subsequently is amended, for example after actual weighing of the packed container, does Customs need to be informed?

Q: Should a 'pilot' scheme be set up by a carrier, shippers, port and competent authority to test the system?

Q: Simply knowing the verified gross mass is not sufficient to achieve safety through the supply chain, since many incidents on the road and rail are caused by improper load distribution and inadequate securing. What can be done about that?

Q: Once the container is packed and sent to the nearest weighbridge, what happens if it is found to be overweight for the national road limits or overloaded for the vehicle/trailer purposes?

Q: Mass information is provided already for bill of lading and customs declaration purposes; how does that information relate to what is now required under SOLAS?

Q: Is it permissible for a shipper (particularly a cargo seller) to issue a blanket certification stating that all weights submitted are based on the use of certified scales using the methodology required by SOLAS?

Q: What records are required and for how long should they be retained?

Q: Can the VGM be provided at the time of booking in order to simplify our processes, whether through a freight forwarder or the entity supplying the cargo for shipment?

Q: Does SOLAS care if the VGM is reported incorrectly, but still within limits for the container or carrying by road or rail?

Q: Where a container or its contents become damaged during transit and, as a consequence, have to be repacked, what responsibility rests with the shipper under the maritime carrier’s bill of lading?

Q: Is it correct that the SOLAS requirement for VGM does not apply to domestic movements even if the containers are stowed on ships which are subject to SOLAS chapter VI?

Q: Containers loaded as ro-ro are exempt; does this also apply where two containers are loaded on top of each other on a chassis?

Q: Whichever stakeholder faces a pecuniary penalty, can recovery actions be pursued against the cargo interests?

Q: What if a container is delivered to a port for shipment prior to 1 July, for which VGM is not required, but only loaded on board a ship after 1 July? Similarly, containers may be loaded at the initial export port prior to 1 July, but transhipped later.

Q: Will VGM need to be entered on the face of the bill of lading?

Q: A container may be packed in one state and loaded at a port in another, or transhipped in yet another. Which standards will be applied by any enforcement officers?

Q: Do empty containers needs to be weighed?

Q: I understand shippers will be responsible to provide the VGM to the carrier and terminal operator.  If it is provided to our freight forwarder, may that entity communicate the VGM to the carrier and terminal operator or must the shipper do this?

Q: Is our freight forwarder responsible to ensure the VGM documentation follows the container from place of pick up to place of destination?

Q: How does breakbulk cargo fit within the SOLAS VGM regulation?  The regulation specifically calls for containerized freight.  Has there been any discussion on how we will handle breakbulk cargo?  Would it be handled using the same guidelines?

Q: Shipments may be resold en route. Most frequent is reselling goods whilst on the water. Less frequent is for goods to be resold prior to loading on board the first vessel, but it can happen.  How would both of these scenarios need to be handled in respect to VGM?

Q: Is the terminal operator required to obtain the VGM directly from the shipper, or can the carrier transmit the VGM to the terminal operator after the carrier receives it from the shipper?

Q: Do the SOLAS regulations require that the shipper’s weight declaration be certified or approved by a government agency?

Q: Where vehicles are packed in/on containers, can the weight from the vehicle registration documents be used as VGM weight?

Q: Instead of a freight forwarder being the consolidator, a maritime carrier may consolidate shipments from multiple shippers into a container and issue maritime carrier master bills of lading to each of these shippers. In these situations, who is responsible for obtaining the VGM?

Section B: Method 1

Q: Where can we find a list of publically available weighbridges?

Q: Some weighbridges don't produce tickets. Would a gross mass being written on driver's consignment note, signed and stamped by the load point be acceptable?

Q: Where a third party (including potentially a port terminal) starts weighing freight containers (i.e. under Method 1) will it have to become a 'verified weigher' in order to issue a valid weight ticket?

Q: Port container handling equipment generally has on-board weighing technology ('PLCs') typically accurate to within 5% and designed to prevent overloading of the equipment. If such data are integrated into other relevant systems (including those used for ship stowage planning) is this likely to be acceptable for determining verified gross mass under Method 1?

Q: Who will pay for carrying out the weighing process for Method 1?

Q: A weighbridge solution for Method 1, unless involving a process by which the packed container is lifted off the chassis, requires knowledge of the mass of the chassis and any variables (such as gensets, other gear, fuel, etc.). Will it be permitted to estimate these in order to identify the VGM value?

Q: It is recognized that bulk cargoes (such as scrap metal or ISO tank containers) are required to adopt Method 1 for VGM of the packed container. Where a shipper has a process by which the mass of the vehicle and empty container is established on entry to the premises, and the packed/filled container and vehicle are weighed again on exit, is it acceptable to calculate the VGM?

Q: Tank containers are often transported ‘empty/dirty’ for a return leg. Does MSC.1/Circ.1475 paragraph 12.1 exempt such containers?

Q: As a shipper I would prefer if my packed containers could be weighed at the marine terminal. Is that possible and would this meet the SOLAS VGM requirements?

Section C: Method 2

Q: Our company only ever provides part loads/less than container load (LCL), never a full container load (FCL) so what is our position?

Q: Can I deliver freight to my freight forwarder without knowing the mass and ask them to weigh it and establish the verified gross mass of the cargo and issue the appropriate documents?

Q: Is it permissible for a company to provide a service to weigh cargo under Method 2 and issue a 'Verified Gross Mass' certificate to a shipper? If so what criteria will they have to meet?

Q: If Method 2 is chosen and intercompany transactions take place (e.g. the producing / dispatching entity is based in UK while bill of lading is drawn up for export at a consolidation port such as Antwerp (Belgium) and a different legal entity within a group of companies is the exporter of record) which legal entity should comply with any national rules and regulations regarding Method 2, the exporter of record or local UK entity actually packing the container and physically able to determine the relevant mass information?

Q: For FCL shipments involving a freight forwarder there are two different scenarios:

a. where the forwarder is agent (putting the carrier and shipper in a direct contractual arrangement); and b. where the freight forwarder acts as principal and issues a house bill of lading, being named as the 'shipper' on the maritime carrier's bill of lading/contract of carriage
In either scenario, can the freight forwarder rely on the mass provided by the forwarder's customer using Method 2?

Q: It is possible for a freight forwarder to act as a principal, without being named as ‘shipper’ on the maritime carrier’s bill of lading; does this absolve the freight forwarder from the legal responsibility to provide VGM?

Q: What if the Tare mass appearing on containers is lacking or inaccurate due to wear & tear, etc.? What remedy is available?

Q: Who is responsible for tare mass of containers?

Q: We conclude that the four elements to be determined in order to declare the verified gross mass of a packed container under Method 2 are:
a. the tare container mass,
b. the mass of the product without any packaging,
c. the mass of primary packaging (if any), and
d. the mass of all other packaging, pallets, dunnage, space fillers and securing material
Is this correct?

Q: Where a container is consolidated with cargo from more than one shipper, which entity is responsible to obtain and communicate VGM?

Q: Cargo may be palletized and transported by truck from one state to another, prior to being packed into a container. Equally, a shipper under the maritime carrier’s bill of lading may be located in one state, whereas the packer is located in another. Which state’s regulations apply in relation to the container packing using a Method 2 process?

Q: MSC.1/Circ.1475 states that Method No.1 should be used for ISO tank container bulk cargo, but volumetric measurement devices are surely accurate to obtain VGM.

Q: As a consolidator, there are frequently multiple entities placing cargo in the same container; who is responsible for VGM?

Q: As a shipper I wish to use Method 2 to obtain the VGM. However, my government has not promulgated any requirements on how to become designated a Method 2 shipper. Does the absence of such requirements mean that I may not use Method 2?

Q: Does Method 2 require the shipper weighing the packages, also to mark the gross mass on each package, which in our case would the pallet mass?