From 2016 IMO will require containers to be weighed

Genoa - But Feport and FONASBA are expressing reservations about the new regulations.

di Alberto Ghiara

Genoa - Starting in July 2016 it will be obligatory to weigh containers before loading them on board a ship. The United Nations maritime organization’s Safety Commission made the decision, when it met last week to update the Solas regulations. The changes approved at the convention will be definitively adopted in November 2014. To help operators and governments that are signatories of the convention to introduce new requirements that containers be weighed, the IMO’s Safety Commission issued a circular with guidelines. The issue has been discussed for quite some time, due to a number of accidents that occurred on board after which it was discovered that the actual weight of containers did not correspond to what was declared on their manifests. The decision, which will be ratified by the IMO next November, responds to the need for safety, but the way in which it will be implemented is causing some concern among operators. Two main problems have been pointed out: one is operational, because of the effects that weighing every container in every port could have; the second problem has to do with responsibility: which operator will be expected to guarantee that this operation is performed correctly?

Feport’s European terminal operators said that they were concerned and opposed to this measure because of its implications. “The goal that it is intended to accomplish,” says Luigi Robba, the Director of Assiterminal, the Italian association that belongs to Feport, “is incommensurate with the means it proposes to use. The idea of weighing all the containers won’t work. It would be enough to introduce a declaration at the point of origin, which could be accomplished by adding a specification to Solas. I don’t think the IMO is making a reasonable decision.” The European shipping agents who belong to FONASBA also expressed their concerns over the measure. The federation asked the IMO for clarification about the definition of “shipper,” which appears several times in the text. The owner of the goods whose name appears on the manifest is not necessarily the person or company which will reserve or pay for the transportation. Therefore, in many cases, the shipper may not be able to verify the weight of the container, if it was bought according to certain kinds of agreement, like for example FOBs (free on board) or CIFs (cost, insurance freight).

According to FONASBA, the regulations should take these issues into account. Furthermore, the agents note that not all ports are equipped with the equipment required to weigh containers. This was also pointed out by Paolo Ferrandino, the General Secretary of Assoporti, the association of Italian Port Authorities: “In some ports there are many terminals that handle containers, but not all of them as a main activity. For each one to install weighing equipment would be a tremendous cost requiring serious investment.” And what about establishing a single weighing station for the entire port? “But that would put the terminals farthest away at a disadvantage,” Ferrandino explained. It would mean moving containers across the entire port, which could have considerable costs. And then putting harbour operators in charge of this task does not make sense.

This is an issue that we should all pay close attention to.” Basically what operators fear is that this regulation would slow the movement of traffic just at the moment when Italian administrations are making an effort to accelerate traffic flow through ports. Pre-clearing was introduced a short time ago in Genoa and La Spezia, and the single customs window is in the pipeline. And solutions are being found for other existing problems. In the port of Genoa, for example, the operators complain about the slowness of the plant pathology inspections. So until investments are made to make the existing operations in the port move faster, the introduction of new monitoring requirements, this time based on the weight of each container (in Genoa there are about two million), would just create more difficulties.