May 9, 2016

On the Horizon: The New Container Weight Verification Amendments of SOLAS VI Regulation 2

In light of the International Maritime Organization’s approved amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) commencing on 1 July 2016, it will become mandatory that all shippers verify gross container weight prior to shipment as set out by SOLAS VI Regulation 2 (the SOLAS Regulation).

The miss-declaration of container weight has been identified as the key cause of maritime incidents including the sinking of the MSC Napoli in 2007, a fire onboard the MSC Flaminia in 2012, and the 2013 Maersk Kampala fire. Unstable loads may also lead to accidents at loading, during transit and at discharge, endangering lives, causing environmental damage and delays to the vessel. In an effort to reduce operational issues and promote safety within the industry, the amendments will enforce mandatory verification of container weight (the verified gross mass) prior to shipping. The purpose of the amendments is to obtain an accurate gross weight of packed containers that are moved through the supply chain prior to loading aboard the ship. The amendments to this Regulation have substantial impact on operational practices between the parties in the international supply chain involved in the movement of containers by sea.

It is the responsibility of the shippers of a packed container to verify and provide the container’s verified gross mass to the ocean carrier and port terminal representative prior to it being loaded. The shipper is defined as a legal entity or person named on the bill of lading, sea waybill or equivalent multimodal transport document (e.g., a “through” bill of lading) as shipper and or who (or in whose name or on whose behalf) a contract of carriage has been concluded with a shipping company. The shipper may also be known as the sender. It is not the carrier’s duty or responsibility to cross-check the container’s verified gross mass received. If a packed container is received at a port facility for export without the verified gross mass, it shall not be loaded on the vessel until the verified gross mass weight is obtained.

Verified gross mass means the total gross weight of a packed container as obtained by one of the approved methods below. It is a requirement that the weight of each packed container is measured and documented using an approved method. The verified gross mass must not only consider the masses of all packages and cargo items, but the container tare and all additional loading equipment (e.g. lashing material) too. It is important to note that the verified gross mass does not have the same meaning as, and should not be confused with, the weight declared in the Booking nor the weight declared on the Bill of Lading.

The shipper may use one of two approved methods set out by the SOLAS Regulation in order to obtain the verified weight:

Method 1:

The packed container is weighed after the end of the stuffing operation using calibrated and certified equipment.

Method 2:

Weighing all cargo contained in packages, which includes the mass of pallets, dunnage and other cargo securement materials to be packed in the container and adding the tare mass of the container to the sum of the single masses. This method can be used by using a certified method which has been approved by the competent authority of the State in which packing of the container was completed. In order to accommodate the potential deviations in methods used, the verified gross weight of a packed container is accepted if it is within a margin of ± 5 percent of the total gross weight.

It should also be noted that under the SOLAS Regulation estimating the weight of the container’s content is not permitted.

Under either of the approved Methods, the SOLAS Regulation requires that the verified gross mass shall be obtained by using weighing equipment that meets the applicable accuracy standards and requirements in the State in which the equipment is being used. The SOLAS Regulation has directly placed responsibility on the national administrations to set up or implement appropriate standards for calibration and ways of certifying. Some States via their Competent Authorities and or Port State Control have already implemented ‘accreditation’ processes for shippers adopting Method 2 to ensure accuracy and compliance. Ship operators need to ensure that they are able to capture the details of the type of shipper ‘Method 1 or Method 2’ or other control processes established by the State to evidence compliance with the Regulation.

The SOLAS Regulation requires that after obtaining the ‘verified gross mass’ the shipper records the verified gross mass in a shipping document. The shipper is required to communicate it as part of the shipping instructions to the shipping company or via a separate communication (e.g. a declaration including a weight certificate). In either case, it should clearly highlight the gross mass provided is the ‘verified gross mass’ and signed by a person duly authorised by the shipper. The authorised signature maybe an electronic signature or may be replaced by the name in capitals of the person authorised to sign it.

It remains the responsibility of the shipper that the carrier and terminal operator receive the documentation or information on a timely basis. Shippers must submit the verified gross mass documentation before the carrier’s acceptable deadline for use by the stow planner and terminal representative. It is the carrier’s responsibility to inform the shipper of what the ‘cut off times’ or ‘acceptable deadline’ is for submission of the verified gross mass information. In cases where the shipper fails to deliver the gross mass weight verification document sufficiently in advance to be used in the ship stowage plan, the container will be denied loading onto a vessel. If the container is transhipped, then there is no need for re-verification on transhipment. The previously obtained certification can be relied upon.

Any expenses incurred with the non-loading, storage, demurrage or eventual return of the container to the tendering shipper of the container should be subject to contractual arrangements between the commercial parties. Where containers have missed the designated ship, this can result in additional commercial or contractual exposures for cargo interests. It is important to note that States are permitted to impose fines and other penalties via their Competent Authorities and or Port State Control in accordance with the relevant national legislation.

In cases where there are any discrepancies between the packed container’s gross mass provided to the carrier by a shipper prior to the container’s weight verification and its verified gross mass, it should be resolved by use of the verified gross mass. Port terminal facilities that receive containers without the verified gross mass may arrange for the verification of the gross mass weight on behalf of the shipper where the port facility has the proper verification equipment and instruments. The verification of gross mass weight of a container can be conducted at the terminal or at another designated location. If the port facility lacks the proper equipment and instruments to conduct gross mass verification, alternatives means of verification will have to be resolved between the port facility and the shipper. In cases where the port terminal clarifies an uncertainty about the verified gross mass by weighing the container, the weight obtained by the port facility should be used for vessel storage planning. Any container with a gross mass exceeding its maximum permitted gross mass may not be loaded onto a ship; as stated in SOLAS chapter 6, regulation 5 “Containers shall not be loaded to more than the maximum gross weight indicated on the Safety Approval Plate under the International Convention for Safe Containers (CSC).” 

Terminal operators should ensure that the appropriate procedures are in place to deal with units which do not have verified gross mass or if this has not been stated on the shipping document. In instances where units are not shipped and remain at the terminal, operators may incur additional cost. Terminal operators have therefore been advised to include contract clauses stating that any and all consequences of inaccuracy of verified gross mass by the shipper will be at the shipper or shipping line’s risk and requiring the shipper to indeminify the terminal for any delays or cost incurred.

Failure to comply with the SOLAS Regulation’s new containers weight verification requirements would result in non-shipment of the containers, delays in shipment and possible fines by Competent Authorities and or Port State Control affecting parties in international supply chains. To avoid chaos and commercial disputes forwarders, carriers and terminals need to review their terms and conditions of business and commercial contracts. Carriers and terminal operators should have sufficient documented procedures and record keeping in place to protect themselves in case of incidents and potential claims arising.

At the end of 2015, INTTRA carried out a survey among their clients. 410 clients were surveyed (43% forwarders, 16% shipping lines, 12% NVOCC, 22% exporters and 1% terminals). The Survey revealed that only 30% of respondents said they expected that their company and/or their customers will be prepared for compliance when the Regulations are implemented in July 2016; 48% said they “have their doubts,” and 10% said no. Two-thirds of respondents, or 66%, said they expected either a moderate or major disruption in the industry. Respondents foresee the most disruption in Asia-Pacific (42%), followed by Africa (22%).

We would advise Owners to obtain the advice of their P&I Club in relation to any queries concerning the new mandatory rules.

For further information visit:

World Shipping Council Guideline
World Shipping Council FAQs


Leif Ollivierre

Legal Consultant

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