When there’s movement in global supply chain, trucking feels it, and is about to feel it again. With containerized cargo undergoing some maritime treaty changes, there could be some impact on trucking interests.
The problem lies with the Coast Guard’s desire to make major changes that will pit two trucking bases against each other. The first change is in the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS). SOLAS is an international treaty first implemented by the International Maritime Organization in London. Since the United States is a signatory to the treaty, we are obligated to enforce SOLAS at our ports, with the Coast Guard being in charge of administering it.
A New Container Paradigm
The part of the treaty that applies to trucking surrounds containerized cargo. Until recently, this type of cargo could be loaded onto a vessel for an international voyage without the container’s weight needing to be documented. As a result, there were often missing or inaccurate weights assigned to particular containers – obviously a problem.
Beginning July 1, however, any containerized cargo must bear a Verified Gross Mass and may not be loaded onto a vessel without that weight having been verified. The dangers arise when mislabeled or unlabeled cargo is loaded on to lighter containers and could potentially crush them.
Imbalanced container loading could also result in serious accidents at sea. More than a few ships have sunk as a result of improperly balanced cargo, the most recent being the MOL Comfort.
While it’s easy for all parties involved to acknowledge the value of verifying cargo weight, there is much hand wringing over who is actually responsible for weighing the containers. Under SOLAS rules, the originating shipper is responsible for providing the information, not the owner of the vessel or the receiving ports.
In what’s little surprise to anyone, domestic shippers came out on the right side of who would verify weight. Now, the Coast Guard is only concerned with verified weight being provided at the point of origination.
When it comes to how the cargo got a particular weight, the Coast Guard is staying out of it. Instead it will be a business interaction that will have to be worked out by the shipper the maritime carrier. The general choices remain at the point of origination, on the dock, or at some other point in between.
For many domestic shippers, this means business as normal. But there’s a big change coming in maritime shipping. Maritime terminals are now saying they may refuse a container if they have not yet received a verified weight.
As an example, the Maher Terminals at the Port of New York/New Jersey have already said they will not bring a container into the terminal unless they have electronic documentation of its weight.
Domestic carriers and trucking-related companies will need to decide how they will respond to this change. Will a motor carrier accept containerized cargo without the originating shipper having yet provided a verified weight?
Carriers also need to be aware of how policies differ from port to port. Are there policies in place in case a shipment is rejected at port? Not only do companies need to make sure they have contingency plans in place, they must make sure their truck drivers are aware of them.
Another concern that may rise out of SOLAS is if a shipper requests that the carrier handles verifying customer weights. Having to complete this step adds responsibility and increased legal exposure if the weights are inaccurate.
There is also a matter of trust here. If the carrier is not verifying the weight, can they be sure the shipper got it right? Domestic carriers need to protect their own interests and properly account for the layers of contracting that surround global containerized cargo shipments. In the end, July 1 is not too far off and trucking companies need to be prepared.