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Release ID: 4655

Weighing containers: is it really that difficult?

A conference to be held at the Hilton London Canary Wharf Hotel - 29 June 2010

In 2007, the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) published a report concerning an incident that occurred while the 868TEU containership Annabella was on passage in the Baltic Sea. The following year, it published another report, this time concerning the loss of the 4419TEU MSC Napoli, which had to be run aground on a UK beach to avoid her sinking in the English Channel.

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 august bodies stated categorically that overloading of a container is something which can never be condoned and went on to say 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.

When in January 2010, the media reported the MAIB’s preliminary examination result into the loss of 18 containers over the side from the 910TEU Husky Racer while she was berthed in Bremerhaven, this issue of weighing containers was again placed in the spotlight. It became very apparent from comments made to journalists that many people in the container industry were still unsure of how container weights could be verified with any reliability.

Ro-ro too

Interestingly, the question “To weigh or not to weigh?” is also one that is being asked in the freight ro-ro sector and not just because many of these vessels carry containers as well as trailers. As the MAIB pointed out in its report into the stranding of the ro-ro Riverdance on the beach at Blackpool in NW England, there is no requirement to weigh trailers before they are loaded on board freight ro-ro vessels, ie those permitted to carry 12 passengers or less.

Solutions are available

There is plenty of evidence, mostly anecdotal but some more authoritative, indicating that shippers cannot be relied upon always 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 way of weighing containers in ports, a way that would be relatively cheap and would not have a negative effect on container terminal productivity. However, over the past three years, container handling equipment manufacturers have been addressing this issue and it would appear that there are now practical and affordable solutions 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.

It is time for a debate

Clearly it is time for the industry to convene and discuss the various issues surrounding misdeclared container weights. As a first step, the UK-based maritime PR company Dunelm Public Relations is organising a one-day conference in London on 29 June entitled Weighing containers: is it really that difficult? Details can be found on the website www.dunelmpr.co.uk.

Dunelm’s managing director David Cheslin reports that initial interest is strong:

“Although we are only now starting to market this event, delegates representing deepsea and shortsea carriers, P&I clubs, classification societies and terminal operators have already registered.

“Sadly though, even at this relatively late stage, I am unable to find a speaker willing to explain why the carriers are seemingly not taking active steps to enforce their own ‘best practice’ guidelines.

“Similarly, no shipper or shipper organisation has 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. It should be noted too that an expert committee set up by the Federal Ministry of Justice in Germany has suggested that in principle the liability should be fault based ‘unless the information is given for the issuance of a bill of lading’.”

The conference will take place at the Hilton London Canary Wharf Hotel on

29 June 2010. This venue is easily accessible from major railway stations and London City Airport by using the London Underground or Docklands Light Railway.

To view the conference programme, please see:

http://www.dunelmpr.co.uk/Conference-Weighing-Containers.pdf

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