In November 2014, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) amended the SOLAS convention by introducing Verified Gross Mass (VGM). It came into effect from 1 July 2016. Here’s everything you need to know about the amendment, and its impact on the shipping industry. There’s also a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) segment at the end answering all your queries! Read on…
What is SOLAS VGM?
The International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) is a maritime treaty that requires shippers to comply with the minimum safety standards in construction, equipment, and operations in shipping. In November 2014, it modified a segment from the convention and introduced Verified Gross Mass (VGM).
In simple terms, Verified Gross Mass (VGM) is the shipping container’s TOTAL WEIGHT, including its contents – measured using the equipment that meets the applicable accuracy standards and requirements of the State.
The SOLAS convention already had safety regulations that required shippers to declare the gross weight of the container, but the introduction of VGM added a level of security and safety to the complete procedure.
Why is SOLAS VGM important for the Maritime Sector?
Shipping containers are a key link in the world trade scenario. Implementing SOLAS VGM was a critical decision to ensure the safety of containers and ships. Due to the strict regulation, it has a significant impact on the entire shipping supply chain network — enhancing its security and making it more efficient.
Misdeclaring the weight of a packed container compromises the safety of the ships and the cargo. Incorrect decisions due to misinformation about the container weight can lead to:
- Several mishaps causing damage to goods,
- Delays incurring additional costs, like extra cargo liability claims, chassis damage, etc.
- Overloading of ships, thus increased accident risks or even ship overturning.
With VGM, the total weight of the containers would be declared and verified, so:
- The containers can be stacked correctly, lowering the possibility of collapse.
- The ships would be loaded according to their capacity, avoiding any damage risks.
- It would reduce the chances of human injury due to mishandling or accidents.
- It also rules out any possibilities of malpractices like smuggling.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Have questions about SOLAS VGM? We have got ‘em answered!
Who is responsible for reporting VGM?
The ‘shipper’ is responsible for weighing packed containers and declaring its VGM in the bill of lading (or any equivalent shipping document) and needs to submit it to the terminal operator (‘representative’).
Can I load the container without the VGM?
No. Without declaring the VGM, a packed container would be denied loading onto any ship to which the SOLAS regulations apply.
As a shipper, where do I start?
You are responsible for providing VGM information, so plan and establish a process between supply chain members (forwarders, truckers, terminals, etc.) integrating weighing services. You need to calculate the potential costs incurred for this service and plan finances accordingly. Also, be aware of the local legislation regarding possible penalties/fines.
Who will pay for the weighing process?
It can be discussed and determined by the concerned parties.
What all is included in the ‘Gross Mass’ of the container?
The gross mass of a container includes:
- tare container mass,
- mass of the product without any packaging,
- mass of primary packaging (if any), and
- mass of all other packaging, pallets, dunnage, space fillers, and securing material.
How to Calculate Verified Gross Mass (VGM) of a Container?
You can obtain the VGM of a container by 2 methods:
METHOD 1 – Weigh the packaged container
After completely packing and sealing a container, you can weigh the packed container through your equipment (or arrange for a third-party to weigh it).
METHOD 2 – Weight each element separately
The shipper, or any third-party, may weigh all the packages and cargo items, including any packaging material which is to be loaded and sum it with the tare mass of the container. (mentioned in the previous section).
The weighing equipment must meet the applicable accuracy standards and requirements of the State (local regulations) in which it is being used.
What details must be mentioned in the VGM document?
The following needs to be mentioned in the bill/document:
- Bill Number / Booking reference number
- Container number
- VGM (in the unit of measurement)
- Full name of the responsible party
- Legible signature of the shipper
- Place and date of signature
- Any additional information/document required by the government authorities
Do I need to verify the VGM communicated by the shipper?
No. VGM is required before loading the packed container. As a carrier or terminal operator, you need not check the VGM again which the shipper has provided. It need not be checked after reaching the destination as well.
What if there is an error while measuring VGM?
There is no provision in SOLAS for any margin of error – as this is a physical weighing requirement, not an estimation. However, the acceptable level of accuracy (and any margin for error) of the measuring equipment is determined by the national standards and regulations.Some products are prone to minor changes in their mass from the time of weighing (due to evaporation or humidity). These margins of error don’t normally present safety concerns.
What is the penalty if I fail to comply with the SOLAS VGM regulation?
If the VGM is reported incorrectly, but still within the permissible limits for carrying containers, it would still violate the regulations and may be subject to penalty.Any penalties would be imposed under the national legislation. Commercially, you might incur added charges like repacking costs, demurrage, or fees for re-weighing and new documents.
Where is the regulation NOT APPLICABLE?
SOLAS VGM regulation does not apply to:
- A packed container on a chassis to be driven on a ro-ro ship,
- Empty containers,
- “Offshore containers” (handled in open seas),
- Any type of vehicle.
The implementation of this new amendment has been fairly successful so far. Yes, it has increased the transport cost for importers. It has increased workload for the terminal employees. But, it has brought the issue of container weight under the limelight and has succeeded in reducing mishaps caused due to misdeclaration of container weight.
However, only knowing the VGM does not guarantee safety through the shipping supply chain. There have been accidents due to improper load distribution and cargo securing even after correctly declaring the VGM.
For the same, the IMO, ILO, and UNECE have laid down ‘Code of Practice for Packing Cargo Transport Units’ (cTU code) — a non-mandatory international code providing guidance about proper packaging, and handling of the containers.