May 25, 2016

IMO urges flexibility in meeting box-weight rules, but holds fast to July 1 deadline

Authorities urged to use practical approach for first 90 days.

By DC Velocity Staff

Governments should be "practical and pragmatic" in enforcing new international rules requiring shippers to certify the gross mass of an ocean container before it can be loaded on a vessel, but no one should expect a change in the July 1 deadline for the rules to take effect, according to the organization that administers the treaty.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) said in a directive issued Monday that authorities should be flexible for the first 90 days in the event of any problems transitioning to the new rules, which appear as an amendment to the Safety of Lives at Sea (SOLAS) treaty. For example, containers that are loaded before July 1, but transshipped on or after that date, should be able to reach their final destination port without another gross-mass verification, IMO said. Authorities should also provide leeway to stakeholders to iron out technology glitches in the communication and sharing of container-weight information, the London-based association said.

The IMO declaration is an acknowledgment of the maritime supply chain's concerns over making a smooth transition to the new rules with the deadline only five weeks away. The amendment has the force of law in IMO's 170 member countries, and there is worry that fully synchronized compliance might be difficult to attain by July 1.

In the U.S., the U.S. Coast Guard, which serves as the lead agency, has called for a flexible, multi-stakeholder approach to resolve the problem. While the trade group representing U.S. agricultural and forest-products shippers hailed the Coast Guard's actions, other exporters worry a plethora of proposed solutions cloaked under the guise of flexibility would cause chaos because of the many ports, terminal operators, and carriers to deal with.

The issue took a dramatic turn late last week when 19 steamship lines represented by the Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association (OCEMA) and six U.S. East and Gulf Coast ports agreed to calculate a container's gross mass—which includes cargo, other contents, and the equipment's tare weight—and use the data to verify that U.S. exporters have complied with the rule.

In a related development, Parsippany, N.J.-based ocean shipping portal Inttra Inc. said today it was chosen by Swiss freight forwarding giant Kuehne + Nagel to be its exclusive provider to submit the verified gross mass (VGM) information to carriers. A freight forwarder whose name appears on the master bill of lading must also comply with the amendment.

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