Clarity is what TT Club believes is required when tackling the amendment to SOLAS, requiring a Verified Gross Mass (VGM) for all packed containers loaded onto ships from 1st July. Clarity and collaboration.
The mutual insurer’s latest pithy, ‘Stakeholder digests’, providing guidance to the regulation and how it affects various parties in the container supply chain, from shippers to forwarders and terminals though to carriers, has been made available on its website. The guidance is simple to follow and seeks to build on the everyday cooperation between all stakeholders in the diverse and efficient containerised industry that exists today.
In launching the Stakeholder digests, as part of an extensive micro-site on container weighing, TT Club’s Peregrine Storrs-Fox commented, “VGM is a safety initiative that many in the industry have been seeking. TT Club’s commitment continues, its discussions with industry figures having started years before the initiation of the work at the IMO. In a true spirit of collaboration, representatives of all parties involved in the container trades have been consulted during the four years of IMO debate. The regulation, effective tomorrow, is the result of an industry working together to improve safety, efficiency and its own professional practices.”
Reaction from many quarters of the industry has been positive, engaging to resolve the complexity and potential difficulties. According to the regulation VGM shall be obtained either by weighing the packed container [‘Method 1’] or weighing all constituent parts in the load [‘Method 2’]. A substantial number of container terminals around the world have now announced arrangements to assist shippers with ‘Method 1’.
Shipping lines are posting the tare weights of their containers online to assist with the calculation inherent in ‘Method 2’, a compromise process that was included in the SOLAS amendment as a result of shipper representation. Furthermore, BIC has announced the launch of its ‘Technical Characteristics Database’, intended to provide easy access to tare information. Thus, while harmony will never reign supreme in any industry, the container business has come together well in this case.
On the other hand Government bodies, the competent authorities to which the IMO is looking to consistently enforce the regulation across the globe have been surprisingly reticent. Despite encouragement from the IMO for governments to communicate fully with industry stakeholders, around 80% of SOLAS signatory States have yet to publish guidance on national implementation. There are, of course, notable exceptions, where national competent authorities have engaged actively with industry and other maritime administrations to ensure common understanding of the processes and interpretation of the regulation.
Consistency, however, across the international governmental spectrum has been lacking, causing much frustration. TT Club highlights the less-than-helpful and confusing messages from some governmental bodies. It has, therefore, been left to industry partners to step into the breach and provide practical support for implementation of this mandatory international regulation. Working with World Shipping Council, ICHCA and Global Shippers’ Forum, TT Club has twice published ‘Industry FAQs’, however, it is recognised that national governmental authorities and enforcement officers will ultimately be responsible for final interpretation.
Collaboration across the container industry remains key, since it epitomises the ‘global village’. For TT Club, Storrs-Fox concludes, “The broad safety issues that VGM goes part way to addressing should be our chief concern.”
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