SOLAS Verified Gross Mass Requirements in Legislative LimboSOLAS Verified Gross Mass Requirements in Legislative Limbo

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Posted on 11 January 2016 by Gavin Magrath


The Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) is a treaty of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency tasked with maintaining a comprehensive framework of rules for international carriage by sea. 171 nations are members of the IMO, so virtually all national governments are State Parties responsible for implementing its treaty measures.

In 2014 the IMO approved amendments to SOLAS, which comes into effect on 1 July 2016, requiring at Paragraph 6.6 that “[a]fter finalisation of stuffing and securing of containerised cargo, the total container weight must be verified and documented” by the Shipper prior to the tendering of cargo using one of two methods:

  1. Weighing the packed container using calibrated and certified equipment; or
  2. Weighing all packages and cargo items, including pallets, dunnage, etc., and adding the tare mass of the container to the sum of the masses of the cargoes using a certified method approved by the State’s competent authority.

Of course, it has always been the responsibility of shippers to provide an accurate declared weight for cargo; the new obligation is to ensure the weight is verified using one of the two methods.

The impetus behind the changes arose from the circumstances of the sinking of the MSC Napoli in severe weather in the seas between England and France. The subsequent investigation by the British Marine Accident Investigation Branch found that significant discrepancies between declared and actual weights of the containers stowed on deck was a contributing factor in the disaster The new SOLAS requirements require that the verified gross mass is documented, signed by someone duly authorized by the shipper, and provided to the Master or their representative “sufficiently in advance to be used in stowage planning.”

Freight Forwarders as Shippers

It must be recalled that under the IMO Guidelines the “Shipper” is the entity or person named on the bill of lading or sea waybill as shipper, and in whose name the contract for carriage has been concluded. Where the forwarder acts as NVOC, they are the shipper on the Ocean or Multimodal Bill of Lading or Sea Waybill, and accordingly the party responsible for documenting the verified weight and providing it to the Master or terminal in a timely fashion. Any forwarders engaging in NVOC activities must therefore be prepared, from 1 July 2016, to provide certified weighing equipment under Method 1 or use a certified method for summing individual cargoes under Method 2.

National Implementation

The IMO is not an enforcement or administrative body, and implementation of treaty obligations is the individual responsibilities of the States Party to the treaties. To date, Transport Canada has not offered significant guidance on what will constitute “calibrated and certified equipment” for method 1, nor on what will be the approved certified method for summing gross weights under method 2, and this leaves substantial uncertainty in crafting the industry response. Notwithstanding the lack of specific guidance, it is probably safe to assume that the authority responsible for “certified and calibrated” devices will be the national authority on weights and measures – in Canada, this is Measurement Canada, an office of Industry Canada.

In Europe, however, there has been a more harmonized approach, which will hopefully serve as a …

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