An Important Topic in Ocean Cargo 

Ocean trade is now on center stage with the revised Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) container weight verification requirements scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2016. Why the focus and industry concern? Containers and their contents must be weighed prior to loading the vessel. Although obtaining a verified weight may sound simple, there are a number of factors, scenarios, parties and practical considerations behind the provision of this value.

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To start from the beginning and the reason behind the regulation— improperly declared gross container masses have prompted stack collapses, vessel instability, injury to dock and vessel workers, damage to cargo, stress to ships and port machinery, insurance claims, added costs and substantial environmental impact. Accuracy is essential to offset these factors, improve vessel stow plans and better distribute weight.

The regulation gained momentum when a vessel carrying over 2,323 containers, including hazardous materials, collapsed. As a result, 200 tons of oil were spilled and 158 containers were lost, a number of which washed ashore. Upon further inspection of the remaining containers, many were found to be overweight for a total of 312 tons in excess of the manifest total.

With the rise of the mega-vessel, an accurate weight is reaching an even higher level of urgency due to the scale of a potential incident. In today’s modern, multimodal container ports, incorrect weights can also ripple into the rail and truck modes of transport as cargo is transferred to its final or intermediate destination.

A Two-Pronged Methodology to Obtain a Verified Gross Mass

The need for container weight verification is clear. However, the industry has many questions remain such as who is liable, what party should obtain the weight and how.

To address the above, the shipper is usually liable, and there are two methods to obtain the weight including options to:

  1. Weigh the stuffed container
  2. Add the weight of the contents to the container tare weight

There are several stipulations and scenarios that remain depending on the nature of the cargo and other factors, some of which are covered at the Descartes SOLAS Container Weight Verification Resource Center. In general, option number two of the available weighing methods is anticipated to be preferred since physically weighing a container may slow the supply chain, lead to added costs and is often impractical.

As with most regulations, many of the scenario-dependent details will be ironed out in practice. One overarching trend is clear— not only does the regulation span many parties across the ocean cargo supply chain, it involves many countries. With 171 countries and territories participating in the International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulation plus 3 associate members, there are likely to be discrepancies in equipment calibration and acceptable tolerances at a national level.  Some countries have noted an acceptable margin of error of up to 5% while others have a zero tolerance policy.

The fact that the regulation is both commercial and national is of critical importance. This means that not only must shippers comply, but countries need to establish or designate a responsible party or agency to oversee calibration and the impact of the regulation. The IMO will not issue fines since any penalties would be assessed and collected by countries.  

The Revised SOLAS Requirement and the Importance of Data

In addition to the physical collection of a stuffed container weight, data will need to be transferred between parties. For example, the information obtained by one of the two weight determination methods must be communicated to the carrier and must be signed. Although much of the data will be transmitted via Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), the information may be shared at different times, include several formats and involve multiple protocols and standards between shippers, carriers, terminals and vessel operators.

On the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) side, data stored in an ERP and/or other systems will need to be re-examined for its accuracy since vessels will not be loaded without a verified weight.  

Software, including freight forwarding solutions, will need to be adjusted to capture the required data elements and transmit the information between carriers, shippers and other parties.

Descartes is helping our customers keep pace with changing global trade requirements. In regard to the SOLAS Container Weight Verification regulation, Descartes’ view is that the system utilized should: 

  • Include added visibility and transparency
  • Maximize existing workflow
  • Be easy-to-use

As a leader in the field of regulatory compliance, Descartes is helping businesses onboard with the regulation as details are refined. 


Written by Eric Bossdorf

Vice President, Global Logistics Network at Descartes