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Shipper Groups Support Division of Responsibility for Providing Loaded Container Weights

Thursday, March 17, 2016
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

Dozens of organizations representing the agriculture, forest products, manufacturing and recycling industries told the Coast Guard March 14 that they support the agency’s interpretation of a container weight rule scheduled to take effect July 1. This rule, an amendment to the International Maritime Organization’s Safety of Life at Sea Convention, will require all packed shipping containers to be accompanied by a shipping document that lists the verified gross mass of a container before they can be loaded onto ships operated by any of the 171 flag states that are party to SOLAS. The rule is being widely interpreted to mean that shippers are required to provide the weight of both the cargo and the container.

In a March 2 blog post offering answers to frequently asked questions on the rule, Assistant Coast Guard Commandant for Prevention Policy Rear Adm. Paul Thomas said that some ocean carriers have determined they need to change their operational or business practices to meet their flag states’ requirements and that domestic shippers may be called upon to change their business practices accordingly. However, Thomas added, the rule itself “provides great flexibility in how compliance can be achieved by carriers who are working with their business partners” and “there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ requirement.” He also noted that the IMO has published a document providing additional clarification on the rule and describing some compliance strategies but that these guidelines are non-mandatory despite the fact that they have formed the basis of publications issued by carriers to help shippers prepare for implementation of the rule.

In a March 14 letter to Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, the organizations said they support Thomas’ “view that if the shipper provides the cargo mass weight, to which the carrier adds the weight of the container, then the intent of SOLAS is achieved” and added that “several ocean carrier executives have advised that such a process would be practical.” By contrast, the letter said, some carriers are demanding that the shipper certify both the cargo and the carrier’s container, an approach that “is contrary to the practical realities of our U.S. export maritime commerce” and would create disruption and delay in the U.S. supply chain, competitive disadvantage for U.S. exporters at a time when they are already losing market share to foreign competitors, and expensive and disruptive new electronic data interchange software and processes.

The letter pointed out that advance submission of accurate gross cargo weight is already a well-established practice mandated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and numerous intermodal weight requirements and that an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule in place since 1983 assures that the accurate weight of combined cargo and container be known to the carrier prior to loading. The organizations said they are willing to go further by providing to their carriers an annual written confirmation in the service contract (or other mutually-agreed document) that their cargo weights are accurate. 

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