The SOLAS Shipping Effect

One of the latest buzz words in the shipping world is “SOLAS”.  It has been called a controversial convention established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and is wreaking havoc for shippers, ports, 3PL’s and more.

In order to better understand SOLAS, we sat down with Nic Arters, Manager of Security and Export Controls at Star USA, and asked him to provide additional insight into the twists and turns of this new requirement and what it means for our international trade industry.

Q. Nic, what exactly is SOLAS? 

A. SOLAS stands for Safety Of Life At Sea.  It is a new requirement that involves the weight of a container that will be loaded onto a ship for export.  In a nutshell, any shipping container leaving from any port in the world must be accompanied by a shipping document that lists the verified gross mass weight of a container.  Currently, that is not a requirement for shippers.

Q. Why is this new requirement such a big deal?

A. When the SOLAS amendment goes into effect, the shipping industry will have to scramble to ensure accurate weight reporting; a costly endeavor in time and money.  The regulations describe two methods for verifying the gross mass of a container:

Method 1 - which requires weighing the container after it has been packed, or

Method 2 - which requires weighing all the cargo and contents of the container and adding those weights to the container’s tare weight as indicated on the door end of the container.

As you see, shippers can still satisfy the requirements and not be burdened with having to find a scale each time. One important thing to note is that under either Method, the weighing equipment used must meet national certification and calibration requirements.

Q.  What started all this, anyway?

A. There has always been a risk of cargo ships capsizing if container weights are not accurate.  The reality is that mis-declared weights contribute to maritime causalities, such as what occurred in 2007 with MSC Napoli, or in 2015 with a feeder ship in the Port of Algeciras. Safety is the ultimate goal of these regulations, that is why it's part of the name.

Q.  So who is really responsible for the reporting of the container weight?

A. The shipper. All responsibility is falling onto the shippers as the carriers will be holding them responsible.  However, the task could be passed along to a third party. Ultimately though, the shipper is on the hook for making sure the requirements are met. If they do not, delays and demurrage are inevitable.

Q.  When will this amendment go into effect?

A. The current deadline is July 1st, however I am aware of many U.S. Exporters that have been asking the Coast Guard to defer this date. Exporters are afraid they will face a competitive disadvantage against foreign exporters.

Q.  So it is the Coast Guard that will implement and enforce this?

A. Not really.  The U.S. Coast Guard cannot hold shippers responsible for not providing container weight documentation.  The amendment actually calls for the carriers to hold shippers responsible, to the point of not allowing any container without the VGM (Verified Gross Mass) to board a vessel. In fact, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Paul Thomas recently told a packed TPM Conference that “They are not mandatory under SOLAS, they are not mandatory under any U.S. regulation. It says that right on top — these are non-mandatory guidelines”. That seems to make things pretty clear in theory but all it really does is muddy the waters. The best thing a shipper can do is being implementing steps to ensure compliance with the regulations.

Q.  Who does this new requirement affect?

A. Everybody – shippers, carriers, forwarders, ports, terminals, 3PL’s, you name it!

Q.  Any final comments about SOLAS?

A. SOLAS is a huge issue.  Over one hundred countries are affected, including the U.S., Canada, and all of the European Union. Questions about who will incur the cost of weighing and who will do the weighing, along with proper documentation, will require dramatic changes to the export industry. The best thing you can do is begin to understand what your current practices are, compare those with the SOLAS requirements and prepare an action plan that moves your company into compliance by the deadline. If this is ignored, I think there will be a lot of angry shippers.

SOLAS regulations are posed for major impacts on the entire shipping Industry. Shippers are being faced with a mountain of challenges in order to comply with these new regulations and may require additional resources or knowledge. For further questions on SOLAS or anything else related to International Trade, Nic can be reached by calling (800) 230-5554.