Friday, 25 June 2010

This happens all the time and nobody seems interested.

Friday Focus -- Weighing containers: is it really that difficult?

In 2007, the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) published a report concerning an incident that occurred while the 868teu containership Annabella was in the Baltic Sea. The following year, it published another report, this time concerning the loss of the 4,419teu MSC Napoli, which had to be run aground on a UK beach to avoid it sinking in the Channel.

These two incidents led to the publication, by the International Chamber of Shipping and the World Shipping Council, of Safe Transport of Containers by Sea – Guidelines on Best Practices.

These two august bodies stated categorically that overloading a container is something which can never be condoned and that the party stuffing the container is responsible for ensuring that its gross mass is in accordance with the gross mass given on the shipping documents. Furthermore, the guidelines state that terminal operators should verify the weights of incoming containers before they are loaded.

Despite this, nothing seems to be happening to ensure that weighing takes place, and the container shipping industry continues to rely on shippers being accurate and honest when they declare the weight of their cargo to the carriers.

When in January 2010, the media reported the MAIB’s preliminary examination result into the loss of 18 containers over the side of the 910teu Husky Racer while berthed in Bremerhaven, the issue of weighing containers was again in the spotlight. It became very apparent that many people in the container industry were still unsure of how container weights could be verified with any reliability.

Interestingly, the question whether to weigh or not to weigh is also being asked in the ro-ro sector, and not just because many of these vessels carry containers as well as trailers. As the MAIB pointed out in its report into the stranding of the ro-ro vessel Riverdance on a beach at Blackpool, there is no requirement to weigh trailers before they are loaded onto ro-ro vessels – those permitted to carry 12 passengers or less.

There is plenty of evidence, mostly anecdotal, but some more authoritative, indicating that shippers cannot always be relied upon to make accurate weight declarations when booking cargo. Yet carriers still accept declared weights and rarely seek verification.

Over the past three years, container handling equipment manufacturers have been addressing this issue and it would appear that there are now practical and affordable solutions available. But there is, however, still no sign that the weighing of containers in ports will become routine. As a result, road hauliers continue to be prosecuted for running overweight, stevedore and seafarer lives are at risk and on-deck container stacks collapse.

Clearly, it is time for the industry to convene and discuss the various issues surrounding misdeclared container weights. As a first step,UK-based maritime PR company Dunelm has organised a one-day conference in London on 29 June, entitled Weighing containers: is it really that difficult?

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