Guide for SOLAS Best Practices Conflicts with Ocean Carriers’ Implementation Plans

Without an orderly process for submitting verified gross mass (VGM), a service disruption looms given the large number of U.S. exporters, marine terminals, and carriers. As the global shipping industry continues to comprise solutions to comply with SOLAS, The Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association (OCEMA), just released Recommended Best Practice for the Acceptance and Transmission of Verified Gross Mass (VGM) and a VGM Process Map. This 18 member group represents most major carriers that call on U.S. Ports and unanimously adopted the OCEMA VGM Best Practice to provide a standardized U.S. framework that shippers may accept the tare weight as printed on the container or from the carrier’s website if they can identify the precise type of container. Based on its analysis of the rule and deduced that containers should not be loaded if shippers have not submitted the verified weight information to carriers.

While OCEMA is providing initiatives to reduce burdens on shippers and others, these actions are in direct conflict with the message coming from Ocean carriers. The lines are informing exporters that even though they are required to provide a single, certified weight for containers inclusive of the tar weight, exporters are not legally responsible for verifying the weight of the container. This ambiguity between the parties has what raised concerns from U.S. Exporters and is the core of the disagreement about reporting the tare weight. According to OCEMA, emphasizing the procedural as opposed to the legal requirement for the tare weight to be provided makes it acceptable for shippers to rely upon the tare weight being provided by the ocean carrier.

However, this concept opposes what the OCEMA best practices state because the shipper is better positioned to report the container weight and that is why some carriers are telling Exporters that SOLAS requires them to certify the cargo and the carrier’s container. While there are many possible solutions for developing a business practice that passes the VGM provision from the shipper to the carrier, shippers should continue to provide just the cargo weight as they currently do and carriers need to do they part as well. Carriers are working to upgrade their electronic communications with shippers so that weight information can be transmitted easier while other companies are offering solutions such as on-demand weighing services and weighing equipment. Regardless of these solutions, there is no indication that exporters will see a cost break or an easier process without the help of a freight forwarder to meet this mandate.

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