Congress seeks further clarification from US Coast Guard

Congress seeks further clarification from US Coast Guard

SOLAS verified gross mass requirements to go into effect July 1, 2016.

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The International Maritime Organization (IMO) in November 2014 amended the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), Chapter VI, Part A, Regulation 2, to require verification of a packed container’s gross mass (verified gross mass, or VGM) prior to loading and stowage aboard a vessel.  The rule goes into effect July 1, 2016, in all 171 IMO member countries, including the United States. 

The United States Coast Guard has said that existing U.S. laws and regulations for providing verified container weights are equal to the requirements under this SOLAS amendment, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington.

According to a Marine Safety Information Bulletin from the U.S. Coast Guard dated April 28, 2016, the Coast Guard sent the IMO “a letter outlining its determination that its current regulatory regime provides for other entities within the container export chain to work in combination with the shipper to determine and verify container weight, and it provide ships’ masters with container weights in order to ensure ships are loaded and operated safely.”

The bulletin goes on to state: “This equivalency acknowledges the dynamic and flexible business relationship between the entities in the export chain, and it provides flexibility for these entities to reach arrangements in order to ensure compliance with the SOLAS amendments that come into effect on July 1, 2016. Shippers, carriers, terminals and maritime associations have outlined multiple acceptable methods for providing verified gross mass (VGM). A couple examples are: (1) the terminal weighs the container, and when duly authorized, verifies the VGM on behalf of the shipper, and (2) the shipper and carrier reach agreement whereby the shipper verifies the weight of the cargo, dunnage and other securing material, and the container’s tare weight is provided and verified by the carrier.”

The Coast Guide adds that any equipment currently being used to comply with federal or state laws is acceptable for the purpose of complying with SOLAS.

However, according to ISRI, the U.S. Coast Guard has made conflicting statements about shippers’ liability in Congressional hearings. The association reports that Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Senate Committee On Commerce, Science and Transportation, sent a letter to the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) asking it to “examine this issue, work with impacted stakeholders, and inform the (US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation) Committee of any appropriate actions to prevent unnecessary disruptions, delays or burdens” to shippers. According to ISRI, Thune says shippers view the preferred approach to “implementation as inflexible and inefficient.” 

In a recent hearing, Congressman Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, also expressed frustration with the U.S. Coast Guard. He asked carriers to work with shippers to find solutions in advance of the July 1, 2016, deadline since many containers will already be in transit and subject to the new rule, ISRI reports.

The association says several carriers and ports have asked the U.S. Coast Guard for permission to join together to create a common strategy for this new SOLAS requirement.