SOLAS and VGM

As a shipper, it is your responsibility to provide the carrier with a precise and authentic total weight of the container to be shipped.

It is no secret that many major accidents are a result of inaccurate weights indicated on shipping container documentation. What can result from an inaccurate weight declaration on a container?

  • Personal injury or death to seafarers
  • Personal injury or death to port workers;
  • Vessel instability;
  • Unstable or collapsed container stacks;
  • Containers lost to sea;
  • Damage to ships;
  • Damage to cargo;
  • Damage to container handling equipment;
  • Supply chain delays;

To address these issues, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in alliance with representatives of the shipping industry have endorsed specific rules as part of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention. This approach will go a long way towards ensuring that the right weights of containers are provided to vessel operators.

Under these rules, the shipper has to declare to the ocean carrier the Verified Gross Mass (VGM) of the container, as well as the cargo weight, weight of every single piece of loading equipment, materials, dunnage and tare (the container’s weight). These requirements affect the communication, infrastructure and interactions between of all the participants in the supply chain.

Across the world, there are different implementation guidelines and regulations. These can be understood better at using the links below. 

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What is SOLAS?

In 1914, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Seas (SOLAS) was introduced following the Titanic tragedy in 1912. Since 1948, SOLAS has been maintained and developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

What is the Container VGM?

VGM which is short for Verified Gross Mass is the total weight of the cargo (that is the cargo weight + loading material (pallets or skids) + dunnage + securing material + tare weight of the container). In a previous article, we already talked about the different types of weight referred to in shipping.

Which countries have implemented SOLAS/VGM?

It is compulsory for all countries that are members of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to implement VGM. While there are countries that automatically endorse the new rule as a national law, others have even added requirements.

Why VGM?

For safety purposes, VGM became a necessity so as to make sure shippers are giving precise and authentic total weight of the container to the carrier. A lot of damaged assets and accident have happened because an incorrect weight information was taken.

Whose Responsibility is it to declare and provide the VGM?

As part of the SOLAS requirements, the shipper named on the bill of lading is the one who is responsible for providing the maritime (ocean) carrier (master) and the operator of the terminal (terminal representative) with the Verified Gross Mass of a container ready to be shipped.

A non-vessel owning common carrier is the shipper facing the ocean carrier and therefore takes the responsibility of reporting the VGM to the carrier based on the VGM that was received from the shipper.

Weight Measurements : How do I weigh the container so I can provide the VGM?

There are two authorized weighing methods:

  • First Method: once the container is fully packed and sealed, the shipper can either weigh it themselves or have a third party weigh it on their behalf. Weighing of an entire container is usually done on a weigh bridge. Accredited service providers must be used.
  • Second Method: either the shipper or a third party as arranged by the shipper will weigh all the packages and cargo items, together with the mass of pallets, dunnage and other securing materials to be packed in the container. The VGM weight is derived by including the tare mass of the container to the sum of the single mass of everything inside the container.

The carrier does not have the liability to verify the weight information provided by the shipper.

Where can I get the tare weight of a container?

You can find the tare weight of a container affixed on the door of the same container. Furthermore, the container weight information of some shipping companies can also be found on their website. However, over time the tare weight indicated on the container may change due to repairs that are carried out on a container, or if the container has wet wooden floors.

Can you weigh a container at the Port Terminal?

A container can be weighed at the port terminal. But not all terminals have the infrastructure to carry out this type of service. Even if they do have the facilities, it may not be the best approach considering the significant amount of containers that go through popular terminals. Costs of using the terminal weighing facilities may tend to be higher, since the urgency of completing is process is greater once the containers are trucked into a port awaiting vessel loading. Weighing containers at the port terminals could result in serious congestion and delays, so you need to think about this before opting to weight containers at the port. Also, if the weighing facilities at the port break down, the shipper will almost definitely miss the connecting vessel since there are a lack of options to work around the problem.

If you are shipping out of a busy port, using the terminal’s weighing facilities should be part of a business continuity plan but not the default option.

Requirements: What information is required from the shipper?

The following data is required from a shipper to the carrier:

  1. VGM per container
  2. Signature (name in capital letters for EDI) of the person permitted to provide the details of the company and the weight of the container.
  3. Extra information and documents if needed by relevant state government authorities.

What is the deadline for VGM submission to carriers?

The deadline for VGM submission will differ according to port because the enforcement of the VGM rules is handled by the local state government authorities responsible for maritime affairs.

What are the consequences of not submitting VGM data?

Both the terminal operator and the carrier are not allowed to load a packed container onto a ship if there is no VGM information available for the container.

When a carrier loads a FCL container on behalf of the shipper, who takes responsibility of reporting the VGM?

When carriers take the place of a contractor, the loading and weighing of the container in the name of the shipper and for his or her behalf, the shipper that is named in the carriers B/L or SWB is accountable and liable for reporting the VGM to the carrier.

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