The containership Master, checking his draught against the weight of cargo which had been supplied to him by the terminals, discovered that there was a discrepancy of no less than 6,000 tonnes of undeclared weight aboard his ship. Fortunately, this was a very large vessel, and what would have been a serious discrepancy and indeed a serious safety matter aboard a smaller ship could be accommodated without concerns about stability or structural stress.

But it is a reminder that this issue of container weights still rumbles on and that too many people who load containers still do not take the matter of weights seriously. Captain Richard Brough, ICHCA International Technical Adviser, speaking at a London meeting on the verification of container weights, noted that in his time operating a terminal he had personally found a 20 foot container into which 40.5 tonnes had been loaded. And while a discrepancy of a couple of tonnes was more usual, it is not difficult to see how this can add up to a substantial tonnage in a ship able to lift 16,000 TEU.

Despite the draft amendment to SOLAS Chapter VI/2 requiring shippers to provide verified weights, either by weighing using calibrated and certified equipment or by calculation, arguments still persist about where this weighing should be carried out. Terminal operators make the point that it is far too late when overweight containers arrive at their gates. It is also pointed out by landside safety authorities that large numbers of accidents, with injury and loss of life, occur on the roads where overweight or unbalanced containers on trailers overturn.

BIMCO has been closely engaged with the passage of this important change which will hopefully prevent containers with unverified weights (mass is preferred) being loaded aboard ships. If all goes according to plan at the IMO, the earliest this much needed regulation could “bite” will be at the end of 2016, although realistically it could be later.

The ICHCA meeting was chiefly concerned with addressing the practical implications of the regulation and their accompanying guidelines. The issue of enforcement was addressed, with a slightly worrying intervention by a Netherlands policy adviser about the way in which the departments responsible for such enforcement are being subject to budget cuts. In difficult economic times, this could be an issue elsewhere.

Workshops dealt with the issues of how terminals will deal with boxes arriving without verified weight documents, the accuracy of the various methods of establishing weight and how those up the logistics chain can be encouraged to play their part properly. There could be commercial opportunities for those supplying verified weights.

It is also clear that the technology is moving on apace, with an intervention from a company which has developed a system that undertakes its weight sensing at the twistlocks, providing, in additional to the weights, an indication to the crane driver of the centre of gravity and whether all the twistlocks are properly engaged, thus preventing accidental lifting.

It might appear slightly depressing that after more than forty years of container transport, there are still arguments about the costs and the provision of adequate weighing equipment when the safety issues are so very clear. Nevertheless, there would appear to be some indication that the SOLAS amendments, which will hopefully make container transport safer ashore and afloat, are now “entering the home straight”!

Author: The Watchkeeper                          Source:  BIMCO