Flag states challenge box weighing proposals

9/30/2012

Two prominent flag states have raised concerns about container weighing proposals that will almost certainly delay efforts to bring in mandatory regulations, though not block them altogether.

Panama and Cyprus say more work needs to be done, but are not opposed in principle to weight checks. Rather, they want to ensure that all aspects are thoroughly considered before legislation is enacted.

Nevertheless, maritime safety campaigners were dismayed about interventions by the pair at the International Maritime Organisation after a working group had reached a compromise on the verification of cargo weights.

A broad coalition of shipowners, terminal operators and unions had teamed up to press for global rules after voluntary efforts failed to stamp out the practice of misdeclarations.

Despite months of preparations and strong across-the-board support for some legally backed requirements amid plenty of evidence that many containers are much heavier or lighter than officially stated, Panama said the proposed Solas amendments were being rushed through without consideration of all the issues.

Cyprus, too, said more thinking was required before it could agree to the proposals.

Arsenio Dominguez, one of Panama’s permanent representatives to the IMO, told our sister publication, Lloyd’s List, that the country supported the motion in principle, seeing it as one of the best options.

However, Panama wants the regulations and accompanying guidelines to be developed in parallel so that any practical problems are identified at an earlier stage.

Dominguez said he hoped firm recommendations and guidelines would be ready to present to the IMO’s sub-committee on Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes, and Containers in a year’s time.

Nicolaos Charalambous, alternative IMO representative for Cyprus, said the IMO should address all issues relating to the prevention of accidents involving containers, not just those limited to matters concerning the verification of the actual gross mass.

Cyprus shared the concerns expressed by Panama, he added.

The setback for campaigners followed intense discussions by members of the working group to reach consensus after two proposals were submitted to the DSC sub-committee on the issue of container weight verification.

One, drawn up by industry groups including the World Shipping Council, International Chamber of Shipping, BIMCO, International Association of Ports and Harbours and International Transport Workers Federation, as well as member states Denmark, the Netherlands and the US, called for all loaded containers to be weighed before loading to verify their weight.

The second proposal, from Germany, wanted to continue to rely on shippers’ declarations.

Extensive discussions took place within the working group, which finally agreed to amend the Solas convention to require loaded container weights to be verified.

Such verification could be achieved either through the shipper’s signed declaration of the container weight, or obtained by weighing the container, or by weighing all the contents of the container and adding the container tare weight to the weight of the contents.

If the shipper did not provide a signed verification, the carrier and terminal operator would have the option to weigh the container to obtain the verified weight.

Either way, weight verification would be required for the vessel operator and terminal operator to load the container on a ship.

Assuming that the DSC subcommittee plenary approved the proposed amendments to Solas, the most likely next step was to submit it to the Maritime Safety Committee in May, which could have seen it come into force by mid-2016.

However Panama argued that it was unable to agree to the compromise until all the issues and problems had been carefully considered and clarified.

Cyprus expressed its own concerns about the Solas amendments, even though the US observed that all the issues raised by both countries had already been identified by the working group as factors to be addressed or clarified in future discussion of the planned guidelines.

Nevertheless, the chair of subcommittee concluded that, in view of the comments made in plenary, more work was needed, and that draft Solas amendments should be introduced with the draft guidelines in place. These will be developed as a package to be considered at DSC in September 2013.

“The working group’s considerable efforts to achieve a compromise were frustrated,” said a senior executive involved in the debate.

“A correspondence group will be formed where some may try to relitigate all the issues. One cannot speculate with any confidence about whether this correspondence group will be able to reach agreement on draft Solas amendments and guidelines for submission to DSC 18 in September 2013.”