Although all eyes are currently on the EU referendum taking place on 23 June, many of our clients in the container business have been working to comply with the new container weight verification regime which will become mandatory for all vessels on 1 July 2016.
In the UK the MCA published guidance on the new regime some time ago (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/436986/MGN534_Complete.pdf) and our clients (logistics providers, carriers and terminals) have been reviewing their terms and conditions of business and implementing systems to protect themselves.
Over the past few months we have spent time with a number of our logistics clients considering the potential legal issues the might arise from the new regime. In particular, we have been looking at what happens where containers arrive at terminals without a VGM (verified gross mass) Certificate which complies with one of the two approved methods of verification.
The new regime is designed to encourage compliance by shippers and forwarders as there are fines and criminal penalties for non compliance. However, if there is a problem with a container stowed on a ship causing or contributing towards a stow collapse then it is vital that the carrier and terminal operator can prove that they have systems in place to ensure that packed containers had a VGM prior to loading.
It will be interesting to see if the new regime will prevent the abuses of the past where unscrupulous shippers looked to overload containers to save freight. It is well known that heavier than declared containers can lead to excess stack weights and excessive pressure on lashings during heavy weather. This can lead to stow collapse and
logistics companies and liner operators are then faced with the headache of dealing with cargo claims and identifying the relevant shippers so as to pursue indemnity claims. Hopefully the new regime will lead to a safer system for planning the stowage of container vessels so as to reduce overloading and stow collapse.
At BDM our lawyers have been involved in many of the leading casualties where heavier than declared weights are alleged to have played a part in casualties. Those cases included the losses of the “MSC Napoli” in 2007 and the loss of the “MOL Comfort” in 2013. Aside from this we have also been involved in dozens of stow collapse cases where it has been alleged that one or more containers have contributed to the casualty and resulting cargo claims.
The regulations making container weight verification mandatory for all vessels before loading will enter into force on 1 July 2016.