After the industrial revolution of the 18-19th centuries, international commerce was on the rise, and international treaties regulating shipping and maritime safety came into existence. The establishment of a permanent international maritime body to deal with related issues did not take place until the 20th century.By the time the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was founded in 1958, originally called Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO), various significant international conventions had already been in existence, as proof of international cooperation in shipping.
Ever since its foundation, IMO has been dealing with all aspects of international shipping, such as tackling environmental threats caused by vessels, the facilitation of international maritime traffic, load lines, carriage of dangerous goods to ensure an environment-friendly, safe and secure conduct.
IMO is in charge of developing new conventions and ensuring that existing instruments are up-to-date with shipping technology changes. It is responsible for more than fifty international conventions and agreements, and has adopted many protocols and amendments.
The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) is the most important of all treaties dealing with maritime safety. SOLAS was first adopted in 1914, following the Titanic disaster, then later on had different versions under the auspices of IMO.
IMO regulations of 2016
Several important amendments to IMO treaties entered into force on January 1, 2016 including the SOLAS amendments: the need for inert gas systems on board of new oil and chemical tankers of 8,000 dwt and above; the latest amendment to the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG); stability instrument requirements on tankers, and new life-jacket testing requirements, just to name a few.
The rule that brought a significant change into the maritime shipping industry is the SOLAS container weight verification or Verified Gross Mass (VGM) requirement, which has been in effect since July 1, 2016. The introduction of this IMO regulation was proceeded by several incidents, especially a major vessel collapse in 2007, which can all be attributed to incorrectly declared container weights on board.
The declaration of the accurate gross mass of a packed container prior to boarding an ocean vessel is critical to ensure correct stowage and stacking, and avoid collapse of container stacks or loss overboard, hence it is vital for maritime safety.
A new Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) communication protocol, the so-called VGM (Verified Gross Mass) or VERMAS (Verification of Mass), was introduced to transmit real weight value, and it requires cooperation between ocean carriers, freight forwarders, Non-vessel Operating Common Carriers (NVOCCs), EDI providers, as well as exporters.
The shipper, the carrier, the terminal and the vessel are incorporated parts of the maritime shipping supply chain. Due to their usage of different protocols, the cargo information might be transmitted at different times. Data of the container weight must be received by terminal operators well ahead of loading in order to allow time for stowage plans.
As of July 1st, two methods have been in use for the collection of weight information: weighing the loaded container using calibrated and certified equipment or adding the total of the contents (including pallets, other packaging and cargo securing materials) to a container’s tare weight, using a certified method approved by the competent authority.
The data acquired will need to be declared, i.e. the verified gross mass; the method used to obtain weight; the party verifying the weight, the date/time of the weighing; reference of the VGM declaration; and the shipper’s authorized person.
The rule states the exporter’s (shipper’s) ultimate responsibility for obtaining a verified container weight. Since a forwarder or NVOCC might be acting on behalf of an exporter, there should be agreements, indemnity clauses or waivers that clearly define which party is responsible and under what circumstances. Shippers must also ensure that the information contained within the applied operational system is accurate and that the data can be transferred to carriers, forwarders and others. Exporters should be aware of the fact that weighing might not be carried out at the port, and without a VGM, containers might be turned away.
Forwarders/NVOCCs also need to ensure that the technology they use is adequate for processing the required data and communicating the information to the carrier. They should have their own internal procedures and know establishments where the cargo can be weighed in case it is necessary.
Carriers ensure that a VGM is received from forwarders/NVOCCs and shippers as part of the shipping documents, i.e. booking request, shipping instruction, or a separate message called Verification of Mass (VERMAS) possibly from a certified weighing facility. Carriers are also confirming that all message protocols, such as Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport (EDIFACT), are up-to-date to allow for the receipt and transmission of VGM data. In turn, countries are to take care of the compliance with IMO regulation on a national level.
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Pedro Paulo is the Import Supervisor of Multicargo, managing sea, air and land import shipments, whilst providing a service customized to the clients’ needs. He has been with Multicargo since its establishment in 2010.