7 The International Chamber of Commerce and the World Shipping Council has urged the International Maritime Organisation to legislate that all loaded containers be weighed at ports prior to loading. In a joint statement, the ICS and WSC said, “The issue of overweight containers has been a subject of industry, insurance, and at times government, concern over the years, and has from time-to-time become an issue of concern to the general public after incidents involving overweight boxes”.
A recent Maritime Research Institute of the Netherlands research project recommended compulsory weighing of containers prior to vessels loading: the project included studies on the widespread impact of incorrect weights on cargo securing, including collapsing container stacks. The IMO has reviewed these recommendations earlier; its subcommittee said at the time that, in the interests of safety, “there is a need to consider ways and means to ensure that the correct weight of the containers is declared to the carrier and communicated to the ship’s master in order to allow for correct and well-informed handling and stowage”.
These moves are somewhat hampered by the fact that there are no statistics available regarding the dangerous practice of under declaration of container weights. Industry sources agree that this practice is rampant in certain trades, resulting in ships being overloaded by sometimes as much as ten percent of the total cargo tonnage declared. The ICS and the WSC believe that this problem is “significant and widespread”, and managers say that a 3 to 7 percent under declaration is “normal”
This malpractice obviously puts crews and ships at risk of capsizing if there are stability problems- container ships commonly sail, in any case, with lower levels of stability compared to other vessels of the same size. However, this malpractice has other ramifications as well. Collapsed container stacks, damage to ships because of load densities being exceeded, cargo and other insurance claims, boxes lost overboard, stress risks for ships and, as the organisations say, “impairment of vessels’ optimal trim and draft, thus causing impaired vessel efficiency, suboptimal fuel usage, and greater air emissions”. Additionally, decisions on stowage and stability are nullified somewhat by misdeclared box weights. Masters know that there are many incidents of especially feeder boxships shutting out cargo because their loadline limits have been reached with overweight containers loaded on board, and before the total cargo has been put on board.
An overweight container can also pose danger on land. As things stand, road and rail weight limits and crane safe working loads may be exceeded at any leg of the logistics chain, posing particular dangers to operators, workers and third parties.
The WSC and ICS say that an international regulatory requirement is essential to ensure that containers are weighed before loading, and that actual container weights be made available to the vessel so that they can be used for stowage and stability planning. A law already exists in the United States that requires the weighing of every export container before a vessel is loaded. As a report in the Handy Shipping Guide says, “there seems no logical reason why all nations should not be bound by the same regulations”.
It is believed that the IMO Maritime Safety Committee is to meet in May 2011 to deliberate an amendment to the SOLAS convention to address this issue.