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Container Logistics

New ammendment establishes weight verification for sea containers

Since 1st July, according to the new SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) ammendment companies are only allowed to load containers with verified gross mass worldwide. Consequently, the exact weight of every container has to be calculated or determined by weighing and subsequently submitted to the shipping company, otherwise they remain at the port. So far, there has not been such a strict regulation. A bureaucratic act that shall guarantee more safety at sea, but so far logistics is faced with new challenges by the lack of infrastructure and missing efficiency.

The aim is that the shippers of the respective shipping company notify the verified gross weight, in short VGM (Verified Gross Mass), on the shipping documents. Photo: © dedi - Fotolia.com

Who does not know the problem: before going on holiday, the right loading and weighing of the luggage is the most important thing for a secure and smooth journey. A principle that can also be applied for container loading at sea. In answer to the increased number of accidents during the past years which are due not least to overloading or a wrong cargo distribution, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has carried out adjustments to the international convention for the safety of life at sea. These shall minimise the risk of accidents, cargo losses, but also risk to life or to the environment.

Determination method: labour-intensive and time-consuming processes

The worldwide obligatory SOLAS Convention will be implemented and controlled by the agency Safety at Sea of the Federal Association Transport Industry Mail Logistics Telecommunications (BG Verkehr). For the purpose of integrating this directive into the previous infrastructure and procedure of the companies, there are two options in order to determine the total weight of the packed container: weighing or calculating. The aim is that the shippers of the respective shipping company notify the verified gross weight, in short VGM (Verified Gross Mass), on the shipping documents.

The first method involves weighing with specially certified scales after having loaded and sealed the container. This process can be performed either by the shippers themselves or by a contracted third party that have a weighbridge in accuracy class IV. "Basically the weighing of the packed container - ideally without vehicle - is the most secure method with the most precise results", explains Thomas Crerar, legal expert responsible for the implementation of SOLAS new regulation within Germany in the agency safety at sea of the BG Verkehr. If the container is weighed with the vehicle, the empty chassis must be weighed once again directly after unloading. Afterwards, the empty weight of the chassis including fuel can be deducted and the actual container weight can be calculated. This step involves an additional expenditure of time.

Lack of infrastructure leads to complications

According to Arne Runge, Director Seaport Import and Export at the Nagel-Group in Hamburg, weighing is the most simple way for the Nagel-Group. However, high company standards on flexibility and freshness will bring new challenges to the Nagel-Group. Especially with refrigerated reefer containers that have an integrated cooling system or containers where goods have only a limited shelf life, the Nagel-Group is loosing time because of this new regulation. Because so far, the goods for stowage could be delivered until the last day and could be loaded immediately. For the reason that the container weight must be documented and transferred already upon arrival of the ship, one to two days for stowage get lost.

Logistics experts complain about the fact that additionally the capacity of scales at the ports - in particular at the Port of Hamburg - needs to be significantly increased. In the course of this determination method, the Nagel-Group cooperates with an external partner for this reason. This one has a special arrangement which raises the container from the chassis in order to be able to carry out the weighing process with enhanced efficiency and speed.

Nagel-Group develops own guideline for efficient implementation

Due to the fact that many companies do not have the possibility to weight on their own at the port or the time requirement of weighing at the port or at a third party is too high, a further measure has been introduced: a calculation method where the empty weight of the container and the single packing items - packaging und freight items including pallets, stowing and safety materials and other packing materials - will be added. For the purpose of being allowed to use the calculation method, certain preconditions regarding the scale as well as a certification of the shipper are necessary.

According to the convention the weight must be determined as accurate as possible. Photo: © Gerken & Ernst - Fotolia.com

As part of the ISO certification, the Nagel-Group is authorised to carry out this procedure and has integrated additionally a scale of the accuracy class III into the processes of picking and stowage. "The Nagel-Group has developed a directive especially for the own use. This regulates the exact procedures", says Runge. Despite of the possibility to determine the weight of the container by calculating, this method may not be applicable in all cases: In case of food that have a high moisture level, for example onions or garlic, only weighing can lead to a reliable VGM.

New scope of action on liability level

The customers decide individually which determination methods will be performed because the additional costs incurred for the determination and transmission have to be borne by the customers. However, the Federal Government bears the costs which occur during random checks - as long as the VGM is correctly handled. If it is concluded that the gross weight of the container is estimated too low, then a penalty will follow.

"It is not our purpose to introduce non-compliance procedures with penalties in Germany. However, we will charge our weighing costs in case of complaints and will keep the container until our costs are reimbursed", says Thomas Crerar. The liability and consequently also the costs will be borne by the shipper, in other words the logistics company.

Internationally binding but nevertheless different

According to the convention the weight must be determined as accurate as possible. A precise tolerance limit for possible inaccuracies has not been fixed in Germany. This has caused dissatisfaction among German logistics specialists: "It would be more easier to define the tolerance - at least five percent. For example in Rotterdam there are higher tolerance limits. Moreover, there are weighing stations available which handle this differently", compares Arne Runge.

To prevent possible distortion of competition between countries, the BG Verkehr has carried out the following measures according to Thomas Crerar:" We are trying to agree with our European partners a preferably uniform procedure, but of course, the individual regulation depends on the respective country. In the course of controls we will ensure that regardless of different statements on tolerance in individual countries, no container that will be loaded in Germany, is treated more strictly than in our neighbouring countries.

Depending on how strictly the controls and penalties will be defined in practice and to what extent this may affect logistics as well as the processes of all parties involved along the supply chain - from the customer to the shipping company - will be shown in the coming months. Consequently, all processes will also adapt to the service requirements of each customer.

Header Photo: © Harald Bolten - Fotolia.com

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