• SOLAS VGM Regulations for Containers Set to Go into Effect July 1
  • July 19, 2016 | Authors: William C. Baldwin; R. Scott Jenkins
  • Law Firm: Jones Walker LLP - New Orleans Office
  • Effective July 1, 2016, a new amendment to Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations will require the declaration of the Verified Gross Mass (VGM) of a packed container before the container can be loaded onto a vessel to which SOLAS applies. The incorrect declaration of cargo weight can lead to various casualties, including cargo claims, hull claims, and other casualties aboard a vessel or shoreside. In an effort to mitigate this risk, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) studied measures to prevent the loss of containers, which led to the new amendment to SOLAS regulation VI/2.

    Under the amended regulations, the shipper has the obligation to verify the gross mass of a packed container. The shipper also has the responsibility to ensure that the VGM is set forth in shipping documents provided sufficiently in advance to be used by the vessel's master or representative and the terminal representative in preparation of the vessel's stowage plan. The regulations provide for two methods of verification:
    1. Weighing the packed container using calibrated and certified equipment; or
    2. Weighing all cargo items to be packed in a container and adding the tare weight of the container.
    The IMO has published "Guidelines Regarding the Verified Gross Mass of a Container Carrying Cargo"; according to the IMO, the Guidelines are intended to provide a standard approach for the implementation and enforcement of the new SOLAS requirements related to VGM.

    Pursuant to a Marine Safety Bulletin issued in April 2016, the United States Coast Guard stated "that existing U.S. laws and regulations for providing verified container weights are equivalent to the requirements in SOLAS Regulation VI/2." The Coast Guard Bulletin provided further that " [f]or the purposes of determining the VGM of a container, any equipment currently being used to comply with Federal or State laws, including the Intermodal Safe Container Transportation Act and the container weight requirements in 29 CFR 1918.85(b), are acceptable for the purpose of complying with SOLAS."

    As parties in the export chain of containers implement the new VGM process, issues may arise with respect to containers that arrive at a terminal without a previously supplied VGM and/or containers that have weight discrepancies between the VGM and the weight obtained at the terminal’s point of entry. The SOLAS amendments do not directly address these issues, but the SOLAS Guidelines state that the vessel’s master or representative and the terminal may obtain the VGM for the packed container on behalf of the shipper when the container arrives without a VGM. The Guidelines further state that "[w]hether and how to do this should be agreed between the commercial parties, including the apportionment of the costs involved." As the new amendment comes into effect, advance agreements between the commercial parties may alleviate the delay and/or administrative burden that may otherwise result from the implementation of the VGM process. In addition to allocation of costs, these agreements may also address allocation of risk and liability, and whether the terminal is acting as an agent on behalf of the shipper and/or carrier.