Containers need a verified weight
Shippers are responsible for providing the Verified Gross Mass (VGM) of the container on the shipping documents. The ship’s Master cannot allow it to be loaded without this information.
The VGM can be determined by either:
- Method One - weighing the packed container, using calibrated and certified weighing equipment.
- Method Two - weighing all the individual contents of the container, including any packing material and dunnage, and adding it to the tare weight of the container.
The requirement for a VGM is intended to protect the safety of ships and seafarers.
While there has always been a requirement under SOLAS for shippers to declare the weight of their cargo, some serious shipping incidents in the past have shown that declared container weights are commonly inaccurate or grossly understated.
Misdeclared container weights make it difficult to plan the safe stowage of cargo on a ship; and can result in container stacks collapsing, the ship’s structure being overstressed, or the ship itself becoming unstable.
The obligation is on the shipper of the goods – the person who offers the goods for carriage by sea – to provide the VGM on the shipping documents.
Who exactly the shipper is in any particular case, will depend on the nature of the commercial contract for shipping the goods that a freight customer (exporter) enters into.
In the case of Method Two, where an organisation is consolidating and packing items from several shippers into a container, they may require declared VGM information for individual consignments from each shipper.
VGM information may be provided in electronic format.
The shipping document must be signed by a person authorised by the shipper. Where another party such a freight forwarder or a road transport operator is submitting pre-advice notices (including the VGM) to ports and shipping lines on behalf of the shipper, the shipper must have a process for authorising those parties.
For Method One, calibrated and certified equipment is a trade approved weighing instrument (an instrument approved in accordance with the Weights and Measures Act and Regulations).
Trade approved equipment used to determine a VGM must comply with legal tolerances and must have a current certificate of accuracy. Weighing instruments approved as Class III or IIII must have a scale interval no greater than 50kg. Scale intervals for other classes of instruments will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Trading Standards Group approves and certifies weighing equipment in New Zealand, including weighbridges; and it maintains a database of approved weighing equipment.
Method Two gives shippers some flexibility in how they calculate the VGM: Such as, for example, using predetermined weights of standard items, or use of established volume to weight conversions. Such procedures should be based on methods of known accuracy, supported by an appropriate quality control, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or similar system, to ensure a consistent process and verifiable weights. Such procedures must provide an accurate and reliable VGM (comparable to that achieved with Method One).
Maritime NZ will not be providing any formal approval of such procedures, but will provide guidance on the types of processes that would be considered acceptable. Not all cargoes lend themselves to use of Method Two – so, in some cases, weighing the loaded container will be the only practicable option.
Port companies and shipping lines have established their own operating rules for receipt of VGM information for export containers, including formats for electronic transmission and cut-off times for that information.
These are commercial matters between shippers and the various players in the transport chain.
In the first instance, shippers should contact their freight companies – the carriers, packers/consolidators, freight forwarders, and shipping lines they use - to find out what they require.
The requirement for a VGM is contained in SOLAS Chapter VI Regulation 2.
This is given effect in New Zealand through changes to Maritime Rules Part 24B: Carriage of Cargoes – Stowage and Securing which came into force on 1 July 2016.
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