Three Ways Verified Gross Mass Rules Will Affect the Supply Chain
A new rule concerning shipping container weight is reverberating throughout the industry, leaving stakeholders across the supply chain with more questions than answers. At stake is the global movement of goods by ocean freight.
Starting July 1, shippers will be required to document the weight of packed shipping containers prior to loading it onto a ship. The verified gross mass (VGM) rule is a new addition to the International Convention of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), an international treaty that sets safety standards for the maritime industry. And while the basic guidelines are fairly simple, it’s the execution and enforcement of the VGM mandate that has left many scratching their heads.
Ask how the new VGM mandate affects the global movement of goods and you’ll likely hear one of a few different answers. That’s because of the mandate’s potential to affect operations for shippers, carriers, ports, and terminal operators alike. Each stakeholder brings a unique perspective on how they will manage the change – with a common variable being that no single group is sure who will ultimately bear the burden of responsibility.
- Shippers: Per the VGM mandate, the shipper is responsible for certifying the weight of each container before it reaches the terminal to be loaded on a vessel. There’s no guidance on how or when that’s done, or how data is transmitted along to other stakeholders.
- Carriers: The U.S. Coast Guard has publicly stated that it has no legal obligation to shippers. Rather, as the agency in charge of maritime safety in the United States, the Coast Guard has jurisdiction over carriers. Should containers on a ship be in violation of VGM rules, it’s the carrier who gets penalized at sea.
- Ports and Terminals: The expectation is for terminal operators to have certified VGM information before a container reaches the port. But many operators have come forward with contingency plans for containers that haven’t been weighed prior to leaving a shipper’s facilities. The Port Newark Container Terminal, for instance, will offer its scales for VGM weight certification for a fee of about $70. Other terminals have announced they’ll offer similar services at varying costs. While these services will no doubt be useful, they also add complexity (and time) to the process of verifying container weight. And uncertainty remains as to wait times and billing.
There are 162 countries involved in enforcing this rule. Of those, only ten have published guidelines for SOLAS. And most of these are drafts and discussion documents, not final regulations. The United Nations agency that regulates shipping – the International Maritime Organization – recently recommended countries take a “practical and pragmatic” approach during the first several months the VGM rule is in place. That doesn’t necessarily mean the regulation will go away, but it may help buy time to iron out some of the challenges in place.
Currently there are many challenges that need fixing around SOLAS. And time is growing short. The potential impact of shipments being turned away or delayed at ports around the world is severe. It requires clear direction, leadership, and communication. To date, the arrival of all three of these remain delayed.