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Web Alert: VGM enforcement - consolidated list of requirements (by country)

13 June 2016

SOLAS amendment to Reg. VI/2 (resolution MSC.380 (94)) requiring mandatory weight verification of packed containers comes into force on 1 July 2016. The amendment was adopted in 2014 after IMO approved guidelines for the implementation of the verified gross mass (VGM) rule.  
 
MSC.1/Circ.1475 states that the enforcement of this requirement falls within the competence of the Contracting Governments, as is the case with other SOLAS provisions.
 
The enforcement agencies of some of the SOLAS member states have issued implementation guidelines. These requirements vary amongst countries especially in terms of the acceptable tolerance limits, investigation procedures and penalties in case of non-compliance.
 
The following SOLAS member states have issued guidelines for the practical implementation of VGM: 
 
Argentina - The Argentine Coastguard has issued Regulation 01-16, which specifies the maximum permitted discrepancy of +/- 5% between the declared and actual mass.
 
Australia - The Australian Maritime Safety Agency (AMSA) has produced a discussion paper which explains the nature of the new regulation and how it will be implemented in Australia.
 
Belgium - The general information can be accessed through this link
 
Canada - Transport Canada has published Ship Safety Bulletin 04/2016 and procedures for obtaining VGM, which mentions that 5% variation in VGM of a loaded container is applied as a threshold for compliance and enforcement purposes but not more than 500kg.

China - The Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) has published guidelines on implementation - unofficial English translation of which is available here. The discrepancies between the verified container gross mass declared by the shipper and the verified gross mass obtained by marine management agencies, vessels, carriers or terminal operators must be within +/-5% or 1 ton (the smaller value applies).
 
Denmark - The Danish Maritime Authority (DMA) has issued order no. 397 which states that as an alternative to a suitable weight (method-1), measuring equipment ensuring that the weight of the packed container is established within an accuracy of +/- 1000 kg (1 ton) may be used during the period until 30 June 2017. For method-2, DMA recognises that there could be deviations when this method is used to determine the verified gross mass of a packed container. Such deviations shall be documented and handled as a part of the shipper's quality management system the sum of these deviations must be the minority compared to the actual weight. In practice, "considerable" will be interpreted as a deviation of approximately 5%.
 
Finland - The Finnish Transport Safety Industry has issued general guidance which is available here.   

France - The French Official Gazette mentions a tolerance of +/- 5%.
 
Germany - The Ship Safety Division of the Federal Ministry of Transportation & Digital Infrastructure has issued FAQs on VGM compliance. It states that the gross mass has to be determined as accurately as possible. Tolerances are specified by the inaccuracies (maximum permissible errors in service) of the used weighing instrument. During an inspection both the maximum permissible errors in service of the check weigher as well as the characteristics of the inspected container will be taken into account.

Hong Kong - The Marine Department (MARDEP) has issued notice no. 43 of 2016 and general guidelines allowing a tolerance of +/5% for containers above 10 tons and +/- 0.5 ton for containers of 10 tons and below. MARDEP has further issued specific guidelines for verification of gross mass of a container carrying cargo by method 2.
 
India - The Directorate General of Shipping has issued M.S. Notice No 4 of 2016 allowing the maximum variance of +/- 1000 kg (1 ton) during the initial stages of implementation.

Ireland - The Marine Survey Office (MSO) of the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport has issued Marine Notice No. 05 of 2016 on the implementation of VGM rules in Irish ports.
 
Italy - The Italian Coast Guard has enacted decree (no. 447/2016) containing implementation guidelines. It introduces a transitional period (until 30 June 2017) during which a tolerance of 3% of VGM will be applied.
 
Japan - The Maritime Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) has drawn two revised ministry ordinances which contain administrative punishments, including fines, for violators of the new international rules. The guideline compiled by the transport ministry allows a tolerance of +/-5%. The English version of the ‘Institutionalization of the method of gross mass verification of maritime containers for export in Japan can be accessed here.  

New Zealand - The Maritime New Zealand has issued general guidance & information together with FAQs, which are available here

Singapore - The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has issued a Shipping Circular (No. 12 of 2016) & FAQs on enforcement. The requirements currently apply to export containers only (not applicable to trans-shipment containers) allowing a tolerance of +/-5% of the VGM.
 
South Africa - The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) has published Marine Notice No. 25 of 2016 providing the enforcement details and penalties for non-compliance. A 2% enforcement tolerance will be implemented strictly which will be used and considered on a case by case basis. It also gives a window of three months (until 30 September 2016) for containers loaded prior to 1 July 2016 and then transhipped on or after 1 July 2016 without VGM. Further, Marine Notice No. 26 of 2016 provides the list of companies accredited by SAMSA to approve shippers using method-2 to verify the gross mass of a packed & sealed container. Penalties for non-compliance in South Africa include fines or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months. 
 
United Kingdom - The Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) has published MGN 534 & FAQs on the implementation guidance. It states that the regulators and other authorised cargo inspectors will use an enforcement threshold +/- 5% of the VGM. However, this will be used on a case by case basis. It further states that should a business fail to meet the expected standard of an accredited company, the MCA may suspend or revoke the verification agreement thereby prohibiting the company from taking advantage of the Method 2 weighing process until any identified deficiencies have been rectified. Penalties for non-compliance in the UK will involve repacking costs, shunting costs, demurrage and detention charges as well as a statutory offence rendering the offender liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or on conviction on indictment, to a prison term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.
 
USA - The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has declared an equivalency to the IMO and issued a Marine Safety Information Bulletin, No. 009/16, which seeks to clarify that the existing U.S. laws and regulations for providing verified container weights are equivalent to the requirements in SOLAS Regulation VI/2. The bulletin further goes on to clarify that "for the purposes of determining the VGM of a container, any equipment currently being used to comply with Federal or State laws ... are acceptable for the purpose of complying with SOLAS." This specifically includes any equipment used to comply with the Intermodal Safe Container Transportation Act or the container weight requirements set forth in 29 CFR 1918.85 (b). USCG, as part of its normal vessel inspections under its flag state and port state control authority will continue to verify that ship's masters receive the VGM of containers in order to ensure that ships are loaded safely and operate within their structural and stability safety limitations.
 
 
Although some countries have specified the tolerance limits, many others still need to advise their position on acceptable variance. The fundamental principle of “no VGM-no load” still applies when the SOLAS amendment comes in force.
 
However, as mentioned in the club’s previous update, with new regulations due to enter shortly, IMO has recognised the concerns of its member states and has urged the flag and port state authorities to adopt a practical and pragmatic enforcement by agencies for a period of three months after the regulation comes in force.
 
Members are also recommended to refer to the club’s guidance on VGM for further details on this subject.