Amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) come into effect on 1st July 2016. These amendments have come about after the sinking of the MSC Napoli in the English Channel in 2007. The Report into the sinking concluded that many of the declared weights of the containers were inaccurate and that such inaccuracies were widespread in the container ship industry. The Report concluded that the overweight cargo did not actually cause the hull failure “but it would have contributed to the reduction of the safety margin between the total bending moment experienced and the strength of the hull”.
The new SOLAS amendments require the ‘Shipper’ to have ascertained the Verified Gross Mass (VGM) of packed containers using one of two prescribed methods. The methods are:
- Weighing the whole packed container using calibrated and certified equipment (Method 1); or
- Weighing all contents of the container separately, including pallets, dunnage etc., and adding the tar mass of the container (Method 2).
The VGM should be determined once the container is packed, closed and sealed, and will usually take place at an authorised weigh station. For FCL containers the actual shipper/ exporter may be the shipper under SOLAS and responsible for weighing the container. For LCL shipments, the NVOC forwarder may be the shipper under SOLAS and would be responsible for weighing and communicating the container weight.
The VGM needs to be communicated in a timely and reliable fashion to the shipping company. Failure to do so will result in the container not being loaded on board the ship, with obvious cost consequences. The method of notifying VGM could be by way of existing Shippers Letter of Instruction and electronic Pre-Receival Advice, which could be appropriately modified to accommodate the new weight information.
If you have any questions on the above please contact Tony Greenwood – solicitor/ Shire Legal on 02 9526 3444
 Report on the investigation of the structural failure of MSC Napoli English Channel on 18 January 2007 – Marine Accident Investigation Branch – report No 9/2008 April 2008 at para 2.9