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Why is it vital to declare the correct weight of shipping containers?

VS&B Containers

In February 2007, container ship MV Limari collapsed in Damietta, Egypt because of stack overweight. The captain of the ship reported that excessively heavy containers were loaded on the upper deck, where the maximum permissible stack weight was exceeded in some rows, leading to enormous force on the lashings. Excess weight in the stacks meant an over-stressed stowage, containers, lashing rods, and turnbuckles.

On 1 July 2016, a stringent global regulation known as the SOLAS VGM (Verified Gross Mass), introduced by the IMO, came into force. It places accountability on the shipper to declare and verify the correct gross mass of the loaded containers within permissible limits. Under this law, shippers of laden containers must provide the Verified Gross Mass to the carrier before loading. VGM is the verified combined weight of a container’s
tare weight plus the weight of cargo, packages, pallets, dunnage and other securing material laden inside. It becomes the shipper’s responsibility to weigh the packed container or to determine its weight by adding the weight of the cargo and other contents to the container’s tare weight. The carrier must then record the VGM in the stow plan. Containers without VGM will not be let on board. This new SOLAS regulation is mandatory and applicable worldwide. However, it is not applicable to the carriage of empty containers.

In the past, shippers used to declare an inaccurate gross weight of containerized cargo, and this had often led to dangerous outcomes. Along the supply chain, overloaded shipping containers had caused accidents involving trucks, trains, and container vessels. Damage and loss of lives were directly related to incorrect declaration of the gross weight of shipping containers. It is a normal practice to stow heavy containers at the
bottom, irrespective of whether they are on the deck or under deck, while the lighter containers are stowed on top of these heavy containers. This rule is maintained to ensure stability and balance of the ship. The stability of the ship is a crucial factor that is evaluated while planning the loading of ships with containers. A clerical error while recording a container weight, or even a deliberately recorded incorrect weight will add up to a huge imbalance, considering that modern vessels carry thousands of containers. The chief officer will face extreme difficulty in stabilizing the vessel, because his original calculations were based on the data provided and not the actual weight of the containers.

The Cargo Securing Manual prescribes the right weight distribution method to ensure a vessel’s balance and stability. But all calculations can go haywire if the actual weight of the containers varies from what was declared. The consequences can be:

  • Stress on container stowage and securing devices
  • Damage to containers
  • Tilting container stacks leading to their collapse into the sea.

The weight of containers also influences other areas of operation, for instance, potential hazards to the safety of seafarers and dock workers.

It is imperative that shippers of packed containers must ensure timely and accurate compliance of VGM regulations to avoid any disruption in the safe transportation of containers.

Please also check other blogs from VS&B that give you a treasure of information from the world of container shipping.

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