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Container weight verification

Accurate weight declarations for cargo containers are a critical safety issue. Regulations for verified gross mass for containers were amended in 2016 under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.

Shippers are now required to provide a verified gross mass (VGM) for containers. These changes reflect amendments to the International Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) approved by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) (since 1 July 2016). These international requirements are implemented in Australia in Marine Order 42 (Carriage, stowage and securing of cargoes and containers) 2016.

The need for accurate weight declarations is a critical safety issue. Providing a VGM for a container allows the master of a vessel to plan ship loading, so that the ship is stable, hull strength and stack weights are not exceeded and lashing arrangements are effective. Incorrectly declared weights can result in container collapse, personal injury, and damage to equipment.

Australian legislation has required shippers to provide an accurate gross mass on maritime shipping documents since 1994. For this reason, many shippers will already comply with requirements for verified gross mass.

Under the changes, the shipper, or somebody duly authorised by the shipper, is required to provide a signed VGM to the terminal and the master of a vessel or their representative, in advance of the container being loaded. They must also provide the VGM on the shipping documents. The gross mass of a container continues to be part of the required cargo information under Marine Order 42. A container cannot be loaded onto a vessel if a VGM is not provided on the shipping documents.

Weighing equipment or service providers

We do not approve weighing equipment or service providers. We will only approve the accuracy standards to be applied to certification and calibration of weighing equipment used to obtain weights in accordance with Marine Order 42.

Existing regulatory authorities, weighing equipment manufacturers/suppliers and equipment approval/verification or calibration service providers will continue to provide these services.

Definition of the shipper

To assist, the shipper is defined in circular MSC.1/Circular 1475 - Guidelines Regarding the Verified Gross Mass of a Container Carrying Cargo. This defines the shipper as the entity or person named on the bill of lading or sea waybill or equivalent multimodal transport document as shipper (see section 2.1.12 of MSC.1/Circular 1475 for the full definition).

In Australia the shipper in Marine Order 42 is and remains the shipper mentioned in the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1991. This is the person or entity that enters into a contract of carriage with a carrier. They must obtain the VGM in accordance with Marine Order 42. They must make the declaration of the VGM on the bill of lading or any other shipping documentation that they use in accordance with their contact of carriage, such as a Pre receival Advice (PRA). They may authorise a third party to do either or both these things this on their behalf.

Definition of shipping documents

Guidance is provided in section 2.1.13 of MSC.1/Circular 1475 Guidelines regarding the verified gross mass of a container carrying cargo.

In the Australian context, the shipping documents are the sea carriage documents mentioned in the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1991. The shipping documents (sea carriage documents) are therefore part of the contract of carriage between the shipper and the sea carrier.

Bills of lading are common examples of shipping documents but care should be taken as house bills of lading may not be the ocean or through bills of lading that are usually part of the shipping documents.

Transhipped containers

For transhipped containers the VGM is the one declared at the port of original loading. The general principal is that a VGM declared on a shipping document for a transhipped container will be accepted for the purpose onward shipment. The exception to this may include situations where:

  • There is evidence that weight is not as declared, or
  • The container is opened and materials added or removed.

Last updated: 

Thursday 25 October 2018