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As the shipping industry digests the International Maritime Organisation ruling that will require mandatory weighing of containers before they are loaded aboard ship, it’s clear that the responsibility for the correct weight declaration lies with the shipper.

The Federation of National Associations of Ship Brokers and Agents (Fonasba) – of which the SA Association of Ship Operators and Agents (Saasoa) is a member – has been part of the working group involved in discussions around practical implementation.

The wording of the IMO document states that at the time a packed container is delivered to a port terminal facility, the terminal representative should have been informed by the shipping company whether the shipper has provided the verified gross mass of the packed container and what that gross mass is.  If the weight is not verified, the container can’t be loaded.  “The original plan was

that every container would be put on a weighbridge and a certificate stating its weight would be issued by an authority approved by  the individual member state,”  UK-based Fonasba general manager, Jonathan Williams, told FTW.  “That got knocked on the head  fairly quickly because there are a lot of places you can’t physically do that.”

This leaves two options. Either the container will need to be physically put on a weighbridge or the weight can be calculated by adding up the weight of the container, its  contents and the dunnage.  The next issue was where the weighing would take place – and ports and shipping lines rejected the idea of weighing at the port because of the negative effect this would have on the fluidity of the supply chain. “A lot of ports don’t have weighbridges and several have only one which is not designed to weigh every container  coming in. “In addition, major ports don’t have room to stack noncompliant containers,” said Williams.  And weighing containers at the port doesn’t factor in the impact of overweight boxes on inland infrastructure – both road and rail.  “It’s logical that whoever  packs the container and closes the doors is the person who is best placed to say how much it weighs,” said Williams. “He can either  take it to a weighbridge or work it out based on the contents of the container.” This however presupposes an honest shipper – and while this may largely be the case, it’s been one of the sticking points in the current requirements.  Saasoa CEO Peter Besnard believes that leaving it in the hands of the shipper is not the most prudent option unless shippers are geared up and can accurately determine the weight and provide a print-out. “The status quo may remain whereby accurate weight certification will not prevail as is the aim of the IMO,” he told FTW. “In South Africa very few shippers have weighing mechanisms on their premises and are reliant on privately owned and operated weighbridges for certification. There are not enough to cater for the volumes of containers moving through the port – which will lead to horrendous queues and congestion at these weighing stations.”  He supports the idea of weighing at the terminal. “My view is that when the container goes into the terminal to the allocated stacking area the weight should be determined at lift off by the straddle carrier or rubber tyre gantry, and if the declared weight is in excess it should be returned to  the shipper. In this way there will not e any stack congestion. The same can apply for railed containers.” But Williams believes that  the industry needs to be pragmatic. “Ship safety is the big issue but efficiency of the transport chain – avoiding delays and reducing  costs – is also key. Central to the entire process will therefore be the body responsible for issuing the certificates. “Member states are required to authorise the issuers and they will be the party responsible for overseeing implementation of the regulations. “We foresee authorised weighing facilities somewhere outside the port. There’s still the side issue of the safety of the container when it’s on road and this also doesn’t overcome the issue of bringing the box into port by train.” Clearly there is no perfect solution, but  Fonasba believes that it’s important to get the weighing done as far up the supply chain as possible. “And that’s what we’re trying to do.” There’s a lot of work still to be done – and not much time in which to do it. Systems and facilities will need to be in place by January 2016 – which leaves the industry just 12 months to get ready for lift-off.