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No VGM - no Load. Will you be ready in July?

Mar 10, 2016
On 1 July 2016 every container loaded onto a vessel will need a Verified Gross Mass (VGM) certificate. Here, Steve Jordan speaks to John Trenchard of APM Terminals to find out what his part of the supply chain is doing to help.



John Trenchard is the global head of inland and end-user services for APM Terminals.  The company is the ports arm of AP Møller Group.  It is active in 64 ports in 39 countries, has 150 inland service locations worldwide and handles around 38 million containers every year.  Unsurprisingly, the new International Maritime Organisation (IMO) regulations that come into force for vessels sailing from 1 July, 2016, requiring every container to be weighed prior to loading, have been filling his working days. 
 

The regulations have been imposed by IMO through the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention to counter some recent incidents in which the stowage of containers may have contributed to maritime accidents. Although it is the responsibility of the master of the ship and the shipper (removal company or consolidator) to comply with the regulations, APM Terminals, in common with all operators, are unavoidably involved and doing all they can to help.  

“APM Terminals sees this as an important safety issue for everyone,” said John.  “This information, if provided accurately and in a timely fashion, will allow us to plan better and help remove risk from the supply chain.  We would like to support our customers by assisting and are investigating the possibility of providing container weighing facilities to steamship lines and their shippers in locations where it makes commercial sense.” 

Although John is taking seriously the need to provide a solution for his customers he said that his main focus is on the receipt of the information from the proper parties and on making sure that it is transmitted correctly through the supply chain.  “The base level is that we need to be compliant then we are looking to try to help where we can.”  However he explained that his first priority is to operate a safe and efficient operation and most of the terminals have not been designed for this type of activity. “It’s important that any solutions that are offered do not create any further bottlenecks or congestion or this will just cause extra cost for our customers.”  

One of the big problems is the current lack of regulatory clarity.  “The IMO regulations do not provide a uniform and coordinated tolerance level or approach,” John explained. “This is left to local authorities. The lack of clarity across the industry is creating uncertainty across all the supply chain stakeholders. Deadlines are fast approaching and unless we get clarity in some of these regulatory areas it’s likely that there will be a negative impact.”    

By negative impact John means that there might be delays as ports decide what to do with containers that do not have the necessary VGM.  “We are working on procedures for where the VGM does not exist,” he said.  “Whether we accept them or whether we recommend a weighing facility at the terminal. That may have an impact on how the supply chain copes with the exports.”  

There are two methods of creating a VGM: either the container should be weighed when full or the contents should be weighed on loading and added to the tare weight of the container. “The key issue is that the weight needs to be certified and, as the regulatory authorities have not necessarily provided the certification specifications, it’s difficult to get weighing equipment certified,” said John, adding that the UK and the Netherlands have declared a required accuracy of +/- 5% whereas some other countries are looking at a much tighter +/- 2% tolerance level.  “The shipping lines have given clear instructions that no VGM, no load,” said John.  Whether that will mean that containers will be shut out or vessels will be delayed waiting for necessary VGMs to be obtained, only the shipping lines will know.  

The new IMO regulations come into force for sailings on or after 1 July, 2016.  However, in practice, this means shippers will need to provide VGM certificates from the middle of June or before depending on when the intended vessel is sailing.  John said that there is a serious desire in the industry to address this safety problem however shippers need urgently to talk to their shipping lines and ask what the process is going to be and to find a certified weighing location at or near the ports they are using. “Some of our APM Terminals facilities will be able to support these services but some will not,” he said. “The moving industry needs to investigate the local services available to them to ensure they have a practical way of achieving this well ahead of the 1 July start date.”  

Although there is still some confusion about exactly how the new regulation will be applied, there seems to be no doubt that containers arriving at the port without a VGM, will not be accepted for loading.  There will be additional costs and the moving industry needs to ensure that these are passed on to their customers.  Every moving company in the world that undertakes outbound international moves needs to act now before it’s too late.  

Photo (middle left): John Trenchard

How to get your warehouse scales verified for VGM

Any container loaded onto any ship in the world that will sail after 1 July, 2016 must have a Verified Gross Mass (VGM). This can be obtained by weighing the container after it’s been loaded or by weighing the individual items as they are loaded and then adding the declared tare weight of the container itself. However, if you intend to choose ‘method 2’, your weighing scales need to be calibrated and approved by the relevant authority.

Each country has an agency that is dealing with the verification and policing issues. In the UK this agency is the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA). To apply for your scales to be approved by the MCA you should e-mail container.weight@mcga.gov.uk
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There are only four months until the deadline and, in practice, any container loaded after mid June will need a VGM as the vessel will be sailing after 1 July. In this short time the MCA will need to process all the applications and verify the equipment. In a recent conversation with the MCA, The Mover was given to understand that the agency is well on with the task and is receiving a large number of  applications.

However the spokesman admitted that the MCA did not know how much equipment would need to be verified by the target date and, therefore, it’s hard to understand how the agency can be confident that it’s on target. The advice is, therefore, to get your application in as soon as possible otherwise you run the risk that you will not be able to assess the VGM of your containers.

The maximum penalties for non-compliance are unlimited fines and up to two years’ imprisonment.

 



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