Scales in Logistics and the SOLAS Convention on Container Weighting

By Brittany Siegel, Trinity Logistics

scales in logistics

If someone asked you to describe “logistics” in easy to understand language, you might say something along the lines of “it’s a fancy term for coordinating and delivering products from a business.” It sounds simple, but there are a lot of complexities that go on behind the scenes to make sure that freight arrives unscathed and on time. We’ll be talking about just one of the many aspects of logistics today, scales. More specifically, the recent amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) container weight mandate, which impacts many international shipments.

What is the SOLAS Container Weight Mandate?

Ever seen one of those photos or memes of a cargo ship where the containers are falling over, throwing the entire ship off balance? If your heart starts to race like mine when looking at one of those pictures, you’ll understand one of the reasons why the container weight mandate was put into play. Container weights have always been required on the bill of lading, but it was estimated approximately one-third of the more than 100 million containers to hit the water every year had inaccurate weights listed. The updated SOLAS mandate has been in effect a little longer than six months, since July 1, 2016. The mandate now requires that the shipper is held responsible for the verification of the packed container’s weight (verified gross mass, or VGM) before it is ever loaded onto a ship. There are two methods that can be used to verify a container’s weight.

The Methods

In order to accurately report container weights, SOLAS has approved two methods for verifying the actual container mass.

  1. The first method is to take a loaded container over a weighbridge. Then, you subtract the weight of the truck, chassis, and fuel to get the total weight of the loaded container.
  2. The second method is to weigh each item that will go inside of the container (packaging, pallets, and other securing materials included), separately. Add the weights of these items to the container weight to find the weight of the packed container.

In order for these to be considered “verified” weights, the weighting scales must be certified and calibrated in line with the national standards of where the weights are being taken. The second of the two methods could face additional certification and approval, depending upon location.

What’s next?

After determining the weights of the containers, you must record this verified information accurately on the ocean bill of lading. The shipper must provide a signed document, paper or electronic, to the shipping line and terminal, stating that the weight has been verified by the shipper and was in fact weighed properly.

Are there any exceptions?

There is only one exception to the required methods of calculating container weights. If the container holds original, sealed packages that have the accurate weights of the packages and items clearly and permanently marked on their boxes, they do not need to be weighed again before being packed in the container. An example given in the mandate is a television, sealed in its original packaging, with the weight printed by the manufacturer on the box. If these boxes have been opened, they would need to be re-weighed to verify there were no changes.

Transshipment

If the container needs to be transferred after the weight has already been verified, it is not required that the container is weighed again in transshipment. During this exchange, the operator of the arriving ship carrying the verified containers will just need to advise the transshipment port of the verified weights.

How is this enforced globally?

While SOLAS is enforced internationally, making sure that mass is verified appropriately through certified scales is something that is a national issue. There isn’t a single approval process internationally for weighing equipment, so the equipment used to measure container weight will need to meet the accuracy standards and requirements in the State/Nation where the shipper is located.

What happens if you don’t comply?

Since July 2016, it has been a violation of SOLAS to load a packed container onto a vessel if there has not been a verified weight provided to the vessel operator and the marine terminal operator. While there’s no set “punishment” for failing to comply across the board, fines and other penalties may be assessed based on the nation. There is another small issue: the cargo ship will leave without your cargo onboard, and could apply other repacking costs. Terminals may choose to hold a container without a verified weight or send it back. The Coast Guard or other similar national agencies are enforcing the SOLAS amendment.

Background Information on SOLAS

While this mandate has been in effect for about six months, the Safety of Life at Sea convention of the International Maritime Organization was first adopted in 1914 after the Titanic disaster, with four additional versions adopted since. This container weight mandate is in effect globally under the IMO and is national law within the 170 countries and three associate members.

About the Author

Brittany Siegel is the Marketing Communications Specialist for Trinity Logistics, a third-party logistics company headquartered in Seaford, Delaware. Brittany manages Trinity’s blog, social media, email, and trade show efforts.

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