FAQ - SOLAS container weight verification

SOLAS

Since July 1st SOLAS requires that all containers for ocean transport are weighed. The gross weight of the container must be declared to the carrier and the terminal in time, or the container will not be loaded onboard. As we still get many questions about SOLAS regulations and the requirements for weighing equipment they impose, we have compiled the below Frequently Asked Questions list. If you still can’t find the answers you need, or if you want to know more about RAVAS scales, please contact us at [email protected].

We’re being told that as of July 1st we need to comply with SOLAS regulations for weighing containers. What is SOLAS?

SOLAS is an international treaty that relates to the safety of ships and their crew. It stands for International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. Per July 1st, 2016 a number of paragraphs are added to the treaty, specifically about the ocean transport of containers. These paragraphs address the shippers of these container transports.

What is new since July 1st, 2016?

Per July 1st shippers must declare the Verified Gross Mass (VGM, verified weight of the container) to the carrier and the terminal. A container without known VGM will not be loaded onboard. The VGM comprises the gross weight of the pay load, but also the own weight of the container (the “tare weight” painted on the door), as well as any dunnage used. Moreover, this weight has to be verified by the shipper.

Who must declare the VGM in case of LCL shipments?

Usually LCL shipments (individual consolidated shipments in containers) are managed by a shipping agent or a logistic service provider. They will have their own contract with a shipping line, and in that relationship the shipping agent will be the “shipper” as defined by SOLAS. In that case it’s the shipping agent who must declare the VGM. To be able to do that, he may have to rely on his clients for supplying him with the weight of their shipments. So it all depends on who is mentioned as shipper on the ‘master’ bill of lading as issued by the actual shipping agent.

How must we determine the weight?

Two ways of determining container weights are permissible: weighing the complete packed container (Method #1) or weighing individual items in the container and compute the total weight (Method #2). In some countries Method #2 must be embedded in other procedures, like an AEO permit or ISO 9001 quality management system.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of both Methods?

Method #1 (weighing the complete packed container) may seem the most straightforward, but equipment for weighing complete containers, e.g. weighbridges, is expensive or not always available for use. Moreover, with the use of Method #1 VGM information only becomes available at a very late stage: during transport or even upon arrival at the terminal. Errors can only be corrected at a high cost. Method #2 offers the advantage of relatively low capital investment in weighing equipment (think of scale forks on a lift truck). VGA information becomes available early and is more detailed, since individual pallets in containers are weighed. For LCL shipments information on individual client shipments is produced, creating opportunities for better ROI. Finally, Method #2 allows more freedom in defining your internal logistics: if individual goods are weighed when they are inbound and the weights recorded in the WMS, then the WMS can calculate the VGM before any pallet has been loaded into the container.  

How accurate must the weighing equipment be?

Scale equipment used for determining the VGM of containers must meet the applicable accuracy standards and requirements of the State in which the equipment is being used. In most countries this is interpreted to mean that the scale must have the accuracy as defined in Metrology Law: weighing equipment for Method #1 must be accurate according to OIML class IV, equipment for Method #2 according to OIML class III. However, a legal for trade scale is not required by SOLAS. 

There will always be weight tolerances. What margins are allowed in VGM container weights?

SOLAS regulations assume 100% accuracy. Most member states however have recognised that in practice there will be weight tolerances in the cargo as well, for example from the effect of moisture. That’s why most countries allow a five percent tolerance in the declared VGM. Individual countries may use different tolerances.

Which scale equipment does RAVAS advise for SOLAS container weighing?

RAVAS supplies weighing equipment for container weighing according to SOLAS Method #2. Most often these are forklift truck scales, but hand pallet truck scales or scales on warehouse trucks may also be used. For SOLAS applications these scales are built out of OIML III certified components and supplied with a calibration certificate. These scales can be fitted with Bluetooth or WiFi data transfer, to communicate the weight with a WMS. RAVAS even offers a SOLAS app for receiving weights on your tablet or smartphone, and for calculating VGM’s.

ENFORCEMENT DELAYED

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has called upon its member states to delay enforcement of container VGM declaration until October 1st, 2016. Countries that honor this request will not check the VGM of containers arriving at the terminal during this three month period. Reason for the IMO request is that shippers, shipping agents, carriers and terminal operators expected problems with so-called transshipment containers, that are moved from one ship to another in port hubs.