Unlike the CTU Code, which forensically seeks to identify the chain of responsibility for everyone involved in the movement of freight, the amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) mandating the verification of gross mass of container overtly only names the ‘shipper’, the ‘master’ and the ‘terminal representative’, and – by implication – the competent authorities.
The complex nature of logistics means that the term ‘shipper’ may encompass a range of people involved in the contracting, packing and transporting of cargo. However, as stated in the WSC guidance, the key commercial relationship in question is with the person whose name is placed on the ocean carrier’s bill of lading. Thus, in many cases, the responsibility for actual ‘verified’ declaration will rest with a freight forwarder, logistics operator or NVOC. This means that often reliance will have to be placed on others to have adequate certified methods to provide verified gross mass – particularly for consolidation business. Of course many suppliers of homogenous shipments will already have advanced systems, which merely require some form of national certification.
Apart from having a sustainable method by which the gross mass is verified, the shipper also needs to communicate it (‘signed’ meaning that there is an accountable person) in advance of the vessel’s stow plan being prepared. The information will be sent by the shipper to the carrier, but with joint service arrangements there may be a number of carriers involved, with one taking responsibility to consolidate the manifest information, in addition to communication with the terminal.
The ‘master’ comprises a number of functions within the carrier’s organisation. Implicit in the SOLAS amendment is that the carrier sets in place processes that ensure that verified gross mass is available and used in planning the ship stow. Arguably, each carrier will need to amend systems and processes to capture ‘verified’ information. However, the simplest might be to amend the booking process, so that the gross mass information is left blank in the system until ‘verified’ data are available. This will be effective if it is clearly understood by all partner lines and terminals with whom the line communicates.
The explicit obligation of the master is simply that he shall not load a container for which a verified gross mass is not available. This does not mean that one with a verified gross mass is guaranteed to be loaded, since that would derogate from the traditional rights of a master.
Recognising the pivotal nature of the port interface, the ‘terminal representative’ has been drawn into the new regulation as a key recipient of information for ship stow planning and, critically, in a joint and several responsibility not to load on board a ship if a verified gross mass is not available.
There has been considerable debate as to whether terminals need to position themselves to be able to weigh containers, not least because of the cost of creating appropriate infrastructure, and amending systems and procedures, with uncertain return on investment. In addition there are commonly incidences of containers packed at the port, in which case the terminal activities could include assisting the shipper in producing the verified gross mass.
The SOLAS amendment places responsibility on national administrations to implement appropriate standards for calibration and ways of certifying. The overtly named parties rely on this to work smoothly and, preferably, consistently on a global basis.
Clarity of such processes needs to be matched by consistency in enforcement. Talk of ‘tolerances’ is disingenuous. SOLAS calls for accuracy. Everyone appreciates that some cargo and packing material may be hygroscopic, thereby potentially increasing mass during the journey, but that need not mask fraudulent activity, nor entice over-zealous enforcement. The UK Marine Guidance Note may be instructive here, stating that enforcement action will only be volunteered where the difference between documented and actual weight exceeds a threshold.
It is suggested that key measures of success of the revised SOLAS regulation will include not only safety of containerised movements, but also free movement of boxes through all modes of surface transport, and a shift in behaviour and culture throughout the unit load industry.