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Trade Group Supports Proposed Agreement on Container Weights

Wednesday, June 01, 2016
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

A proposed agreement designed to ease compliance with the container weight reporting requirement set to take effect July 1 is getting support from a major trade association.

Regulation VI/2 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea will require shippers of packed cargo containers to certify and submit the verified gross mass (the combined weight of the cargo and container) to the carrier and port terminal operator sufficiently in advance of vessel loading to be used in the preparation of the ship stowage plan. In comments submitted to the Federal Maritime Commission May 25, the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America said this requirement is expected to significantly and adversely affect U.S. exporters and non-vessel-operating common carriers by imposing on them a number of additional costs, including weighing charges, costs for additional transportation when certified scales are not available at port facilities, fees for updating software to comply with applicable VGM reporting requirements, and costs incident to cargo delays.

The proposed Port Operations and Safety Discussion Agreement currently before the FMC covers the 19 ocean carrier members of the Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association and six major East Coast and Gulf Coast ports (the South Carolina Ports Authority, Georgia Ports Authority, North Carolina State Ports Authority, Port of Houston Authority, Port of Virginia and Massachusetts Port Authority). The NCBFAA said it supports this agreement based on the understanding that it (1) aims to establish a practice by which marine terminals would be responsible for providing the certified tare weight of a container to be used in the VGM, thus alleviating shippers’ concern relating to certifying information pertinent to equipment they do not own and avoiding the need for exporters and NVOCCs to perform redundant weighing procedures; (2) would permit parties to discuss and hopefully reach agreement that the process can be conducted without charge to the tendering shippers; (3) allow parties to determine what constitutes compliance with the VGM requirement and potentially agree on some variation tolerance; and (4) allow OCEMA to reach agreement with at least one port even if others elect not to agree.

At the same time, the NCBFAA expressed its opposition to the VGM requirement, which is part of “a non-self-executing treaty” and thus “unenforceable in the United States unless regulations adopting the requirements are promulgated by the U.S. Coast Guard.” That agency has refused to take such a step, the NCBFAA noted, and has “instead insisted that there was no obligation for shippers to change their practices with respect to the reporting of the weight of their cargo because the existing regulatory regime already imposes requirements equivalent to VGM.”

The NCBFAA added that the FMC should make clear that any approval of the proposed agreement (a) does not signal the Commission’s approval of the VGM requirement or that carriers’ insistence on literal compliance with that requirement is consistent with or lawful under the 1984 Shipping Act and (b) does not authorize carriers, ports or marine terminal operators to collectively establish any charges for weighing containers or transmitting the certified weight to carriers that can be passed on to shippers or NVOCCs.

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