Is weighing containers really that difficult?

Is weighing containers really that difficult?

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”.

In this document, these two bodies stated that overloading a container is something that can never be condoned and that the party stuffing the container is responsible for ensuring that the gross mass of the container 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, including all those who sail on deepsea and shortsea/feeder vessels, continues to rely on shippers being accurate and honest when they declare the weight of their cargo to the carriers.

In January 2010 following the MAIB’s examination result into the loss of 18 containers over the side from the 910 teu Husky Racer while berthed in Bremerhaven, the issue of weighing containers was again placed in the spotlight.

There is plenty of anecdotal and authoritative evidence to indicate that shippers cannot always be relied upon to make accurate weight declarations when booking cargo. Yet carriers still accept declared weights and rarely if ever seek to have them verified.

Back in 2007, there seemed not to be an easy and relatively cheap way of weighing containers in ports that would not negatively impact on terminal productivity. However, since then container handling equipment manufacturers have addressed this issue and it seems that practical and affordable solutions are now available.

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, stevedores’ and seafarers’ lives are put at risk and on-deck container stacks collapse. It is an issue that concerns many companies and organisations, not only those directly involved such as shipowners, carriers and terminal operators but also seafarer unions, health and safety managers, marine surveyors, insurance underwriters and lawyers.

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 Public Relations is organising a one-day conference at the Hilton London Canary Wharf hotel on June 29, 2010 entitled Weighing containers: is it really that difficult?

Interestingly Dunelm’s managing director David Cheslin reports that although initial interest is strong, “Sadly

no shipper or shipper organisation has yet come forward with an offer to speak on this subject despite the fact that the recent UN Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea, the so-called Rotterdam Rules, provides for a strict and unlimited liability of the shipper for any inaccurate information given for the issuance of transport documents including information on the weight of the goods.”