A group of 19 large U.S. and foreign-flag carriers said late Friday its members will accept container-weight data from all U.S. ports and terminal operators that weigh the boxes at their facilities beforehand. The move helps lift the onus of box weighing from U.S. exporters less than two weeks before they must comply with international rules requiring that each box's "gross mass" be verified before it is placed aboard ship.
The Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association (OCEMA) said in a statement that ports and terminal operators, using special on-terminal scales, could provide a packed container's gross mass—which encompasses the cargo, the container, and other contents such as the packaging and pallets—as the box moves through their truck gates. The port or terminal operator would then forward the weight information to the carrier on behalf of the shipper. With the certified documentation in hand, the carrier could load the container aboard the vessel.
Shippers using OCEMA's approach would not be required to sign off on each container, the group said.
OCEMA, which has already struck a deal with six East and Gulf Coast ports and operators under which the six will adopt uniform terminal-weighing procedures on behalf of shippers, urged ports and terminals nationwide to follow suit.
The container-weight rule, an amendment to the 102-year-old Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) treaty, takes effect July 1 and has the force of law in the 171 nations that are members of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which administers the treaty.
Earlier last week, the U.S. Coast Guard, the agency tasked with enforcing the amendment, told OCEMA that its approach was compliant with the SOLAS mandate, the group said.
The container-weighing amendment was pushed hard by carriers concerned that illegally overweight boxes could lead to improper ship balancing, making a ship prone to structural failures and even to capsizing. Until recently, carriers and a number of ports had insisted it was the exporter's sole responsibility to provide the data. U.S. exporters have argued they cannot provide tare weights of equipment they neither own nor control. As the clock ticks toward the July 1 deadline, carriers and selected ports have come off their stance regarding the exporters' role in performing the weighing procedure.
The two basic approaches being discussed to arrive at gross mass are to weigh the box after its contents have been packed and sealed, or weigh the cargo and other materials prior to loading, and then add the total to the tare weight printed on each box.
The Agriculture Transportation Coalition, which represents U.S. agriculture and forest-products transportation interests, welcomed the proposed solution. However, Peter Friedmann, the group's executive director, said OCEMA fought any changes "tooth and nail." Only a warning from the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission that it might challenge OCEMA if it didn't agree to the modifications moved the needle, Friedmann said in an e-mail yesterday. OCEMA officials were unavailable to comment.
There are still a number of issues to be worked out, among them the procedures for weighing boxes that enter terminals via on-dock rail networks. Another is whether all U.S. ports and marine terminals will go along with the OCEMA approach. A third is the impact on U.S. importers, especially those that own the cargoes. As of two weeks ago, only 15 percent of the IMO-signatory nations have issued guidelines on how their supply chains should implement the amendment, according to ICHCA International, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that specializes in global cargo handling.
U.S. retailing interests are concerned that their shipments could be affected should the amendment's enforcement not be uniform country to country or carrier to carrier.
Correction: In a number of articles, the name of the treaty has been improperly referred to as the "Safety of Lives at Sea." It is the "Safety of Life at Sea" treaty. DC Velocity regrets the errors.