The new provisions of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) entered into force on July 1, 2016 and stipulated that the consigner of a cargo is obligated to verify the weight of containers intended for sea transport. This means that, before loading a container on a vessel, the consigner must have pertinent documents informing of its actual weight. At the same time, the Ministry of Maritime Economy and Inland Navigation published a draft of amended Maritime Safety Act, which is to implement the latest solution in this respect in the domestic legal makeup.
The issue related to establishing the weight of containers loaded onto vessels is significant to the safety of life at sea. An average-sized container ship can accommodate approximately 8 thousand containers in a single cruise. With this amount, even the slightest inconsistencies in the declared cargo weight can lead to a tragedy. In the past, underestimated or overestimated container weight has caused the collapse of entire container stacks, problems with stability and navigability, problems with surpassing permissible hull loads, as well as crew injury or death. To exemplify this, let us recall the MSC Napoli accident, in which the actual weight of 10% of the containers transported exceeded the value specified in shipping documents, which caused the ship to list and drown. It is estimated that, even though only 2318 containers were loaded on the ship, the difference between the actual and declared cargo weight was approx. 1.25 thousand tons.
The problem was recognized by the maritime transport industry many years ago, the possible economic effects in the form of precise container control in ports and terminals hindered any compromise. Such countries as Denmark, the Netherlands or the US, and such organizations as BIMCO, IAPH, ICS, ITF and WCS pointed to the need to introduce changes in effective regulations.
In result, according to the new SOLAS regulations, it is the consigner who is in charge of verifying the cargo, checking the weight of the container and declaring it to the shipper and to the terminal before the container is loaded onto the ship. In turn, shippers and port terminals are banned from accepting containers, for which the weight has not been verified. Possible container weighting can be performed by charge by the terminals, but this is to depend on the verified volume and their technical capacity.
It should be emphasized that the new regulations do not apply to containers transported on ro-ro trailers and semi-trailers on routes up to 200 nautical miles, which are defined by IMO as short international travels.
The subject of compulsory container weighing is to be raised at the Maritime Logistics panel as part of the 2016 Maritime Economy Forum in Gdynia.
Photography: P. Kozłowski