Just imagine a container in which the shipper has declared a four-tonne weight of cargo has been stowed within it but subsequently, after it has damaged a crane, is found to contain no less than 28 tonnes.
The weight of containers has long been a contentious matter, with too many collapsed stows and even capsized ships witness to the cavalier manner in which cargo weights are sometimes declared. BIMCO, the World Shipping Council (WSC), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and now the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) have now mounted a joint campaign to encourage the IMO to amend the SOLAS Convention to require, as a condition for stowing a laden container aboard ship, that both the ship and port facility have a verified actual weight of the container.
Hopefully, the Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes and Containers Sub-Committee will consider this requirement at its September meeting next year. Torben Skaanild, secretary-general of BIMCO, has welcomed the recent participation of the IAPH in the joint approach. Better and more accurate knowledge of container contents will, said IAPH president Dr Geraldine Knatz (who is also an executive director of the Port of Los Angeles), “increase governments’ confidence in maritime commerce”.
A more robust approach to cargo weight and contents declarations has been a feature of cargo shipped into the United States for some years, but in many other parts of the world, those operating ships and ports find that weights and even contents are treated in a notably careless fashion by too many shippers.
Those operating container ships frequently find that they have no real appreciation of the actual weights that are to be shipped, discovering considerable discrepancies when examining pre-departure draught and comparing it with the weight believed have been loaded. On occasion, it has been found that the stability of the ship has been compromised by the weights of containers stowed high in the deck stack, and a number of small feeders have effectively capsized alongside the quay, such has been the loss of stability from unexpected weights.
Some years ago, a Dutch feeder ship capsized when underway, but fortunately in water sufficiently shallow for there to be no loss of life or injury. Other container ships have been stressed by numbers of overweight boxes being loaded. The analysis of the loss of the big containership ‘MSC Napoli’, which saw salvaged boxes opened and weighed, suggested that the weight distribution from a large number of overweight boxes had been a contributor to the ship suffering structural failure.
The difficulty of policing the weight of containers has invariably been suggested as a reason why this issue continues to menace ship safety, with numbers of collapsed stows and boxes lost overside often attributed to this lack of rigour in weight declarations. A reluctance to be seen to be less than obliging to the customers, coupled with the lack of weighbridges or other means of physically weighing laden boxes, is usually cited to be one reason for the lack of action. There are, however, new cranes coming on the market which may make the role of the terminal more effective in identifying overweight boxes, but a SOLAS requirement, which would require greater diligence among those stuffing containers, would appear to be the best possible option.
BIMCO - Watchkeeper